Could this finally be the cure to cancer? If success from mouse studies can be duplicated in human trials, this is the treatment that might finally put an end to tumors once and for all.
Scientists at Stanford University have developed a cancer "vaccine" made from two immune-boosting agents-- CpG oligonucleotide, and an antibody that binds to tumors-- that can completely eliminate all traces of cancer in mice that were genetically modified to develop a variety of different tumors. Of the 90 mice tested in the study, 87 were cancer-free after only one treatment. Although three of the mice later showed a recurrence, after a second treatment they were also cured, according to a Stanford Medicine press release.
Amazingly, the approach worked for many different types of cancers, including breast, colon, as well as melanoma, and the method should work, in principle, on any tumor that can be infiltrated by the immune system.
"When we use these two agents together, we see the elimination of tumors all over the body," said senior researcher, oncologist Ronald Levy.
Now, Stanford University is seeking volunteers for a medical trial. "People need to know that this is in its early days," Levy told SFGATE. "And we are still looking for safety and looking to make this as good as it can be." The treatment doesn't involve any chemotherapy, but the patient will receive a low dose of radiation in addition to two rounds of the "vaccine." For now, only people with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma may participate in the trial.
The treatment is a type of cancer immunotherapy, which utilizes the body's own immune response to attack cancer cells. This kind of approach can be tricky, however, because cancer cells are also produced by our bodies. In other words, it's not easy to get our immune cells to recognize cancer cells as harmful in the same way that they might recognize an invading virus as a threat. For this reason, most immunotherapies attempt to train or genetically engineer our immune cells to single out cancer cells, but this method can be expensive and incredibly complicated.
How is it different?
The thing that makes the new vaccine so unique is that it can be injected directly into a tumor, and it will only affect immune cells locally present within the cancer itself. No genetic engineering is required, so treatment methodology is radically simplified. But even though it targets a specific tumor, the activated immune cells within that tumor end up spreading throughout the body to mop up any metastases as well.
"In the mice, we saw amazing, bodywide effects, including the elimination of tumors all over the animal," Levy explained.
That's after just a single, targeted injection. It's impressive. Of course, the results will need to be tested in humans before being approved, but those trials are already set to begin. About 15 patients with low-grade lymphoma will be the first to have the vaccine administered.
Needless to say, if it all works out, this could become one of the great medical discoveries in history.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in February 2018.