Credit: James C. Weaver, Wyss Institute
By Science Daily
NIBIB-funded researchers have developed a novel 3D vaccine that could provide a more effective way to harness the immune system to fight cancer as well as infectious diseases. The vaccine spontaneously assembles into a scaffold once injected under the skin and is capable of recruiting, housing, and manipulating immune cells to generate a powerful immune response. The vaccine was recently found to be effective in delaying tumor growth in mice.
“This vaccine is a wonderful example of applying biomaterials to new questions and issues in medicine,” says David Mooney, Ph.D., a professor of bioengineering at Harvard University in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, whose lab developed the vaccine. The project was co-led by Jaeyun Kim, Ph.D. and Aileen Li, a doctoral student in the Mooney lab. Their findings were published in the December 8, 2014 issue of Nature Biotechnology.
Cancer cells are generally ignored by the immune system. This is because — for the most part — they more closely resemble cells that belong in the body than pathogens, such as bacterial cells or viruses. The goal of cancer vaccines is to provoke the immune system to recognize cancer cells as foreign and attack them.
One way to do this is by manipulating dendritic cells, the coordinators of immune system behavior. Dendritic cells constantly patrol the body, sampling bits of protein found on the surface of cells or viruses called antigens. When a dendritic cell comes in contact with an antigen that it deems foreign, it carries it to the lymph nodes, where it instructs the rest of the immune system to attack anything in the body displaying that antigen.
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