Athens, Ga. When cells become cancerous, the sugars on their surfaces undergo distinct changes that set them apart from healthy cells. For decades, scientists have tried to exploit these differences by training the immune system to attack cancerous cells before they can spread and ravage the body.
Now, researchers at the University of Georgia Cancer Center have synthesized a carbohydrate-based vaccine that in mice has successfully triggered a strong immune response to cancer cells. The finding, published in the October issue of the journal Nature Chemical Biology, brings the scientists one step closer to a much-sought-after cancer vaccine.
In mice we can illicit very strong antibody responses and we have shown that the antibody responses are functional that they can kill cancer cells, said lead author Geert-Jan Boons, Franklin professor of chemistry.
Vaccines are currently use to prevent diseases by priming the immune system to recognize and attack a virus or bacteria. The vaccine that Boons and his team have developed, on the other hand, is a therapeutic vaccine that trains the bodys immune system to fight an existing disease.
The discovery in the 1970s of unique sugars on cancer cells set scientists in search of a way to get the immune system to recognize and attack cells that express these cancer-associated sugars. Until now, however, the results have been less than spectacular.
Cancer cells originate in the body, and the immune system leaves them alone because it distinguishes between the bodys own cells and foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria.
Boons explained that early cancer vaccines were created by linking the tumor-associated carbohydrate with a foreign protein. The immune system, perhaps not surprisingly, attacked the protein and the linker molecules, but generally left the carbohydrate alone.
We needed to come up with a vaccine that does not give our immune system a chance t
|Contact: Sam Fahmy|
University of Georgia