CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- A cancer vaccine carried into the body on a carefully engineered, fingernail-sized implant is the first to successfully eliminate tumors in mammals, scientists report this week in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The new approach, pioneered by bioengineers and immunologists at Harvard University, uses plastic disks impregnated with tumor-specific antigens and implanted under the skin to reprogram the mammalian immune system to attack tumors. The new paper describes the use of such implants to eradicate melanoma tumors in mice.
"This work shows the power of applying engineering approaches to immunology," says David J. Mooney, the Robert P. Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering in Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. "By marrying engineering and immunology through this collaboration with Glenn Dranoff at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, we've taken a major step toward the design of effective cancer vaccines."
Most cancer cells easily skirt the immune system, which operates by recognizing and attacking invaders from outside the body. The approach developed by Mooney's group redirects the immune system to target tumors, and appears both more effective and less cumbersome than other cancer vaccines currently in clinical trials.
Conventional cancer vaccinations remove immune cells from the body, reprogram them to attack malignant tissues, and return them to the body. However, more than 90 percent of reinjected cells have died before having any effect in experiments.
The slender implants developed by Mooney's group are 8.5 millimeters in diameter and made of an FDA-approved biodegradable polymer. Ninety percent air, the disks are highly permeable to immune cells and release cytokines, powerful recruiters of immune-system messengers called dendritic cells.
These cells enter an implant's pores, where t
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