Scientists Develop Cancer Cell–Based Vaccine to Kill and Prevent Brain Cancer

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital have developed a new approach to eliminate established tumors and induce long-term immunity. “Our team has pursued a simple idea: to take cancer cells and transform them into cancer killers and vaccines,” Khalid Shah, MS, PhD, lead author and a founding member of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system, stated in a recent press release.

The study, published in Science Translational Medicine, detailed the team’s dual-action cell therapy that was engineered to eliminate established tumors and train the immune system to eliminate the primary tumor and prevent any cancerous recurrence. The team tested this approach in an advanced mouse model of the brain cancer glioblastoma.

Although cancer vaccines are an area of interest for many researchers, much of the work regarding these vaccines use inactivated tumor cells. Instead of using inactivate tumors, Dr. Shah and his colleagues repurposed living tumor cells, which travel long distances across the brain to return to the site of their fellow tumor cells. The team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, using the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9, engineered living tumor cells and repurposed them to release tumor cell killing agents. Additionally, the engineered cells were designed to express genetic factors that allowed the immune system to recognize and remember the cells for long-term anti-tumor responses.

Mimicking a human’s immune microenvironment, the repurposed CRISPR-enhanced and reverse-engineered therapeutic tumor cells (ThTC) were released in different mice strains. The dual-action cell therapy was safe, applicable, and efficacious in the tested models. “This mechanism-based efficacy of ThTCs translated into a survival benefit and long-term immunity in primary, recurrent, and metastatic cancer models in immunocompetent and humanized mice,” the researchers wrote in their study.

Further testing and development of this method is needed, of course, however, Dr. Shah remarked that his team chose this model and used human cells to smooth the path of translating their findings for patient settings. The team of researchers also noted that this study focused of cell therapy to treat brain cancer, the method can be applicable to a wider range of tumors.

“Our goal is to take an innovative but translatable approach so that we can develop a therapeutic, cancer-killing vaccine that ultimately will have a lasting impact in medicine,” he stated.