Cancer is an insidious disease that does not discriminate. Whether it be a first-hand experience or watching a loved one fight for their life, almost everyone has been affected by cancer in some way.
At some point, everyone who has been affected by cancer has wished for a miraculous cure that would wipe out cancer cells. Now, scientists are closer than ever to making that wish a reality after making a slight adjustment to an experimental skin cancer treatment.
In 2018 alone, it’s estimated that there will be more than 1,700,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed throughout the United States. Tragically, many patients fighting cancer will eventually lose their battle. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 600,000 will die from the disease in 2018.
The Most Common Diagnosis
Based on statistics from the institute, the most common cancers in the United States are breast cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, prostate cancer, colon and rectum cancer, melanoma of the skin, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney and renal pelvis cancer, endometrial cancer, and leukemia. All of the more than 100 different types of cancer comes with its own prognosis and survival rate.
A Difficult Battle
Regardless of the diagnosis, however, one thing is certain: those who have been given a cancer diagnosis will have to fight to stay alive. For some, that means undergoing painful and invasive surgeries. For others, it means pumping poison into their bodies with the hope that the cancer cells die before they do.
A Growing Problem
Sadly, cancer isn’t a problem that scientists expect to get better on its own. As time goes on, scientists actually expect cancer rates to continue to increase. According to experts at the National Cancer Institute, approximately 38.4 percent of men and women in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.
A Worldwide Epidemic
Not only are cancer rates increasing in the United States, but people around the world are also seeing an increase in rates. Throughout the world, cancer is one of the leading causes of death. By 2030, experts expect the number of new cancer cases will rise to 23.6 million per year.
Waiting For a Cure
As a result, scientists have dedicated their entire careers to finding a cure for cancer. As technology has advanced, scientists have been able to create new and more effective treatment options. However, people are still waiting for a miraculous cure to wipe cancer out completely.
One Step Closer
Despite the incredible challenge of finding a cure for cancer, scientists are still working as hard as possible to crack the disease once and for all. Lately, a team of scientists in the United States has gotten one step closer to making that dream a reality.
Strengthening the Immune Response
When cancer cells spread throughout the body, scientists have found that T cells, the cells in the immune system that fight cancer cells, are inhibited. So in recent years, scientists have been working on immunotherapies and vaccines to battle cancer.
An Intense Reaction
Their aim has been to use cancer vaccines to cause the body’s immune system to target and fight tumors. Normally, those vaccines are paired with adjuvants, which are molecules that cause the immune system to have a more intense reaction to a specific antigen. As a result, the adjuvants make the vaccine more efficient at combating cancer cells in and out of a tumor.
In the past, scientists have used a few different adjuvants during preclinical trials with varying degrees of success. However, they aren’t viable options for fighting cancer in humans. Not only are the adjuvants difficult for scientists to synthesize, but they can be toxic themselves.
Looking For an Alternative
A team of researchers from the University of Texas and The Scripps Research Institute started working on finding an alternative adjuvant that would not only be effective at killing cancerous tumors but would be safe for people. To begin, the team screened 100,000 synthetic compounds that could possibly serve as the adjuvant.
The Perfect Fit
After screening the library for potential compounds, the team found a chemical called Diprovocim. The chemical seemed to be an ideal fit since it is able to bind to the same immune receptors as other adjuvants used. But that wasn’t the only thing that made Diprovocim promising.
According to the team of scientists, Diprovocim is safe, easy to produce in a lab, and easy to modify. After identifying the chemical, the team decided to test it in mice suffering from an aggressive form of skin cancer. The results of that test left the entire team stunned.
The Experiment Begins
During the test, researchers gave all of the mice suffering from the aggressive form of melanoma the anti-cancer therapy known as anti-PD-L1. After that, the mice were split into three different groups. One of those groups was given nothing but the anti-cancer vaccine.
The Experimental Groups
The second group was given the vaccine along with Diprovocim, which they hoped would stimulate the immune system. Lastly, the third group was given the vaccine and compound called alum. Alum is another adjuvant derived from aluminum that also stimulates the immune system.
54 Days Later
Each mouse was given a second shot seven days after the first injection. After 54 days, the first group, which had been given just the anti-cancer vaccine, had all died. The group that had been given alum in addition to the vaccine had a 25 percent survival rate. Incredibly, the group that had been given Diprovocim had a 100 percent survival rate.
A Curative Response
“This co-therapy produced a complete response—a curative response—in the treatment of melanoma,” said Scripps Research Professor Dale Boger in a statement. Boger co-led the study with Bruce Beutler, MD, of UT Southwestern. “It was exciting to see the vaccine working simultaneously with a cancer immunotherapy like anti-PD-L1,” Boger added.
An Added Bonus
Not only was Diprovocim completely successful at killing melanoma cells, but further tests proved the compound was even more effective than the team had hoped. When scientists tried to re-establish the tumor in the mice, their bodies fought it off again. “It wouldn’t take,” Boger explained. “The animal is already vaccinated against it.”
Essentially, if the cancer were to return in the future, the immune system would immediately know what to do. Before a tumor could even start growing, the immune systems would attack the cancerous cells.” Just as a vaccine can train the body to fight off external pathogens, this vaccine trains the immune system to go after the tumour.”
The Next Steps
Now, the team is hoping to do more pre-clinical tests to see if its effective at destroying other types of cancers. They also need to figure out if the treatment works alongside other forms of therapy. After that, the treatment would need to be tested for its effectiveness in humans.