In Brief

Scientists take 'very positive step' towards universal cancer vaccine

Genetic breakthrough sees patients' immune systems tricked into attacking tumours

Scientists have taken a "very positive step" towards creating a universal vaccine against cancer, say experts.

Reported in the journal Nature, the potential new therapy involves patients' immune systems attacking tumours as if they were viruses.

Pieces of cancer's genetic RNA code were placed into nanoparticles of fat and injected into three patients in the advanced stage of the disease. In response, the immune systems produced cells designed to specifically attack the disease.

The vaccine was also found to be effective in fighting "aggressively growing" tumours in mice, say the researchers, who were led by Professor Ugur Sahin from Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany.

"The vaccines are fast and inexpensive to produce and virtually any tumour antigen can be encoded by RNA," said Sahin.

"The approach introduced here may be regarded as a universally applicable novel vaccine class for cancer immunotherapy."

Dr Helen Rippon, the chief executive of Worldwide Cancer Research, described it as a "very positive step forwards towards the global goal of a 'universal cancer vaccine'".

She added: "We know the immune system has great potential to be manipulated and reactivated to fight cancer cells. These are exciting and novel results, showing the promise of an RNA nanoparticle vaccine to do just that."

The genetic code could be "programmed" for any cancer, says the Daily Telegraph. "All doctors would need is the genetic profile of the tumour to make a custom-made vaccine which, as well as fighting the disease, would prevent it ever returning."

While heralding the breakthrough, Dr Aine McCarthy, Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer, warned that larger clinical trials were needed to confirm that it "works and is safe. More research is also needed to determine if it can be used to treat other types of cancer, she said.

It is "still very early days", says ScienceAlert, but we have "another reason to feel hopeful about the future of cancer treatment – and that's always a good thing".

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