New UMass Amherst immunotherapy could halt cancer recurrence

A team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst has explored a fascinating concept in cancer immunotherapy. They’ve proposed, in theory, a method to use a protein antigen from a childhood vaccine to target malignant tumor cells, reinvigorating the body’s immune response against cancer, potentially stopping it in its tracks and preventing recurrence.

Their innovative approach involves a bacteria-based intracellular delivery system, utilizing a non-toxic form of Salmonella to release a vaccine antigen inside solid-tumor cancer cells. This research, conducted in the Forbes Lab at the Institute for Applied Life Sciences, holds promise for addressing challenging cancers like liver, metastatic breast, and pancreatic tumors.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst has filed for a patent related to this technology, which is set to be licensed to Ernest Pharmaceuticals, a startup co-founded by Professor Neil Forbes, the senior author of this research. The team aims to seek FDA approval for clinical trials in the coming years.

The core idea is to leverage the immunity generated by vaccines and direct it toward cancer cells. However, since cancer cells don’t naturally display viral molecules on their surface, the researchers asked if they could use Salmonella to transport a molecule inside cancer cells, prompting the immune system to attack these cells as if they were viral invaders.

Credit: University of Massachusetts Amherst

To test their theory, the team genetically engineered Salmonella to deliver a protein called ovalbumin into pancreatic tumor cells in mice previously immunized with ovalbumin. This innovative approach triggered an antigen-specific T-cell response, resulting in the clearance of 43% of established pancreatic tumors, increased survival rates, and prevented tumor re-implantation.

Furthermore, when they attempted to reintroduce pancreatic tumors into these immunized mice, none of the tumors grew. This suggests that the immune system developed an immunity not only to ovalbumin but also to the cancer itself.

The researchers had previously shown promise by effectively treating liver tumors in mice with this modified Salmonella, and this study builds on that success. However, further refinement and safety testing are needed before human clinical trials can begin, with a focus on liver cancer as the initial target, followed by pancreatic cancer.

This research is more than just an academic pursuit; it represents a step toward a potential new cancer therapy, driven by a personal mission to make a difference in the fight against cancer.

Source: University of Massachusetts Amherst

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