Today we will talk about a possible vaccine to treat melanoma. How has it developed? What is it based on?
And before I tell you how and why, I want you to understand what melanoma is. Melanoma is a type of cancer that originates in melanocytes, hence its name. But what are melanocytes? They are cells that are in the epidermis (a part of the skin), and that are responsible for producing melanin. Melanin may sound more to you, since it is the pigment that gives color to our skin and protects us from the sun’s rays (more melanin, darker our skin, less we burn).
Ok, and now yes, melanoma develops from one of these cells, which begins to multiply uncontrollably and turns into a tumor that will (normally) have a mole shape on our skin. What is the biggest problem with this type of cancer? It easily metastasizes, that is, cancer cells pass into the bloodstream, distributing themselves to other organs of the body and generating other much more lethal tumors.
And now let’s get to the point, two teams of researchers: one formed by the Dana Farber Cancer Hospital in Boston and the Harvard Medical School (USA), and the other by the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz (Germany) have arrived to develop similar vaccines to treat this type of cancer.
And what does this vaccine consist of?
This vaccine is formulated based on neoantigens from the specific tumor of each patient. Here I have to make another parenthesis, yes, sorry. Cancer or tumor cells, as you already know, have undergone mutations in their genes that cause them to multiply “like crazy”. Well, these mutations cause proteins to be produced that are not manufactured by normal cell types. These proteins, exclusive to each cancer, to each patient, are called neoantigens. These neoantigens are attacked by the immune system of the patients, since they are recognized as something strange.
What if you could help the immune system recognize these neoantigens from the tumor and therefore destroy it?
Well, this is exactly what the two research groups thought, which determined which neoantigens 19 patients with melanoma had, developing a specific vaccine for each of them. The results were that in 15 of the 19 patients the cancer disappeared completely.
A summary, to see if it has become clear to us: Analyzing what the neoantigens of each tumor were, a personalized vaccine was developed with them that aroused the immune system, which would not only attack the vaccine’s neoantigens but also those of the tumor and cancer cells killing cancer.
Despite the great success of this project, all the patients who participated had previously undergone surgery in order to remove the tumor. For this reason it is not yet clear which of these patients healed due to the vaccine and which to the operation. It remains only to wait for larger-scale trials to conclude whether the vaccine is an option, and to pray that the cost of developing a personalized vaccine does not prevent many from taking advantage of the treatment, if it turns out to be effective.
And I invite you to visit my section on cancer and even some related entry if you have not finished clarifying any concept. Also, you can always write to me and comment on your opinion. THANK YOU!