Progress made towards cancer vaccine

In collaboration with the Press Association

Scientists in Sweden may have found a way to persuade the body's immune system to detect and attack tumours.

Normal cells use a process called 'antigen presentation' to alert white blood cells when they are under attack from invaders like bacteria and viruses. But cancer cells often manage to evade detection by turning off this built-in alarm system. The team had previously found that, under certain circumstances, they could persuade immune cells to attack cancers that had turned off their antigen-presentation system. But how this attack was being carried out had remained a mystery.

Now the researchers, based at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and working in collaboration with the Leiden University Medical Centre in Holland, have managed to identify and isolate the white blood cells involved, and work out the nature of the chemical signals that switch them on. The work, published in the journal Nature Medicine, could eventually lead to the identification of a 'cancer vaccine' based on these chemical signals, that could switch on a patient's immune system to help treat the disease. Though buoyed by the discovery, research scientist Elisabeth Wolpert at the Microbiology and Tumour Biology Centre sounded a word of caution. "So far we've only conducted research on mice, so it's too early to get our hopes up too much," she said.