Research & Clinical Trials

Stem Cell Vaccine Carries Potential as Mesothelioma Treatment

Written By:
Mar 06, 2018
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Written By: Tim Povtak,
March 6, 2018
stem cells

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine believe a patient-specific stem cell vaccine could become part of mesothelioma treatment — and possibly prevention — in the future.

The belief stems from their recent study that demonstrated a consistent immunologic response with genetically-altered stem cells in laboratory mice carrying particular cancer cells.

“This could potentially play a role for a large group of — if not all — cancers,” Dr. Joseph Wu, director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute, told “We envision it potentially being used as a vaccine or adjuvant treatment for mesothelioma.”

The study involved induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS), which are cells taken from the blood or skin and genetically reprogramed. This allows the cells to attack or prevent cancerous tumors when mixed with a generic immune-stimulating agent.

Vaccine Shows Anti-Tumor Response

The study tested mice infected separately with breast cancer, melanoma and mesothelioma cells. The anti-tumor response rate was similar in all three types of cancer.

“This is significant for future cancer therapies, that we now have a surrogate cell that can provide the immune system with a large amount of cancer-related antigens,” Wu said. “Based on preliminary studies, the effectiveness of our vaccine is not limited to one cancer.”

IPS cells typically are used in regenerative medicine, often to repair damage from trauma or disease. This latest study explored their use as immune system facilitators to stop the development of tumors.

Researchers found the implanted tumors grew steadily in mice in the study control group. Conversely, tumors shrank in 70 percent of mice treated with the vaccine with IPS cells and the generic adjuvant.

The study is especially significant for mesothelioma, the rare cancer with no definitive cure and no FDA-approved second-line treatment options.

Even with multidisciplinary treatment at specialty centers, the two-year survival rate is less than 30 percent.

Different Clinical Uses

Wu said he can envision two types of strategy for the anti-cancer vaccine with IPS cells:

  • Prophylactic Treatment: The vaccine could be used as a preventative measure, given to high-risk patients to bolster the immune system at an age when they are most vulnerable. People with long-term occupational exposure to asbestos — the primary cause of mesothelioma — could be targeted. The hope would be preventing the cancer entirely, or at least delay the onset of the cancer.
  • Adjuvant Treatment: The vaccine might be used following or during standard treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. The vaccine could reactivate a weakened immune system to target any tumor cells left behind after first-line therapy or target the tumors cells when they are most vulnerable.

“These cells, as a component of our proposed vaccine, have strong immunogenic properties that provoke a system-wide, cancer-specific immune response,” lead author Dr. Nigel Kooreman wrote in his study. “We believe this approach has exciting clinical potential.”

Researchers believe the next step will be testing their methods in a laboratory setting with human cancers and clinical trials.

“Although much research remains to be done, the concept itself is pretty simple,” Wu told the Stanford News Center. “We would take your blood, make IPS cells and then inject the cells to prevent future cancers. I’m excited about future possibilities.”

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