Monday, February 9, 2015

Self-Assembling 3D Cancer Vaccine

There are many different kinds of treatment for cancer. Some include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. But, researchers at Harvard have been testing a new kind of immunotherapy in mice. They have developed a vaccine to help fight tumors by assembling into an "infection-mimicking microenviornment" to help boost immune response against the tumor. The vaccine contains microsized porous silica rods and once injected, these rods form a scaffold which induce a strong immune response. 

Cancer cells are ignored by the body because they resemble healthy cells. This vaccine tries to help the immune system recognize tumor cells more efficiently. It does this by employing the help of dendritic cells. These cells search the body looking for antigens on the surfaces of invaders like viruses and bacteria. They proceed to take the foreign body to the lymph nodes where the immune response progresses. This vaccine ramps up this response by assisting these cells in finding the antigens present on tumor cells by having said antigens inside the biomaterial: 

This immunotherapy is different from ones used in practice because everything happens inside the body. Most therapies now include removing white blood cells, manipulating them, and injecting them back into the body. This vaccine is revolutionary since it requires a much less invasive process. Clinical studies with mice have shown, "90% of mice receiving injection still alive at 30 days compared with only 60% of mice" given an injection of only drugs and antigens with no scaffold. 

While this therapy is now being researched as a cancer vaccine, it could be used to fight other diseases as well. The same scaffolding material can be loaded with any combination of drugs or antigens to produce the same immune response, in theory. 

Carolyn McDonagh (Group B)


  1. What a cool concept. I'm a bit confused about one bit of this though. When you say "90% of mice are still alive at 30 days", do you mean that all of said mice have terminal cancer and are on death row already? Is there any research showing cancer regression using this therapy, or is it more of a treatment, and less of a cure?

    ~David Almanzar

    1. Yes, those mice were infected with lymphoma cells and this treatment showed delayed tumor growth. These mice, without treatment, would've died in 25 days. I should have included that, thank you for pointing that out! Also, I believe at this stage it's considered a treatment. Hopefully one day it can actually be used in humans.

      - Carolyn McDonagh

  2. This is a really cool approach to cancer treatment. Is it known why the scaffolding provokes a stronger immune response?
    -Daniel Bonkowski

    1. Basically, the scaffolding hold antigens of the cancer cells that the dendritic cells would normally recognize on the surface of the tumor. As well as the antigen, it holds chemical compounds that attract these immune cells. By having a large volume of these antigens present in one place it helps the immune response happen faster. These dendritic cells are temporarily "attracted, housed, and reprogrammed" to work with the immune system against the cancer. Other vaccines that don't have the scaffold present are short-lived because they don't have this longer-term environment to prolong the differentiation process of the dendritic cells. All these factors help contribute to a much stronger immune response than normally observed with other cancer vaccines.

      -Carolyn McDonagh

  3. This is really a great advancement in modern medicine but is there any estimated time frame until we can actively use this research? Do we use this therapy in anything yet or is this purely in the research phase?
    -Dan Staiculescu

  4. This is a very interesting concept of treating cancer. The procedure was explained very clearly above. Just for curiosity, do you know if this immunotherapy improve the immune system in general afterwards or it only improves the adaptive system, which consists of dendritic cells only? Is this treatment applicable to all cancers? And is chemotherapy still required during this treatment?

  5. Super interesting! I really liked your use of diagrams in your blog post - it made the concepts easier to understand for readers who might not have a background in the subject. I was wondering if they had done research to see whether this immunotherapy works better on some types of cancers or not. I know that cancer patients can sometimes become immunocompromised and injecting a vaccine that induces a strong immune response might not work as well for those patients. Thanks!

    -Rebecca Quirie