Potential for personalised light-activated cancer vaccines

14 Nov 2007

Cancer tissue taken directly from patients could be used to produce a light-triggered vaccine to target and treat their own tumours, according to a study published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) can be used to treat some types of cancer by activating a light-sensitive drug. Research has recently shown that PDT can also stimulate an immune response against a tumour.

Now researchers based at the British Columbia Cancer Agency in Vancouver, Canada, have developed this interesting technique further. The authors performed PDT on mouse tumour samples in the laboratory and injected them back into the same mice. This new technique was as effective as using cancer cells grown in the laboratory in the vaccine, but cuts out the time-consuming process of culturing cells and allows the treatment to home in on unique characteristics of the individual’s tumour.

Using a sample of the patient’s own cancer will in theory allow the treatment to be personalised to the individual patient by acting against proteins specific to the tumour and capitalise on the increased immune response from cells used in the vaccine.

Dr Mladen Korbelik, senior author of the paper, said: “The prospect of using samples from a patient’s own tumour to treat them is really exciting. This technique could mean that treatment is delivered more quickly and, most importantly, is tailored to the individual’s cancer.

“Although our results showed this method produces powerful cancer vaccines, we’re confident that this technique can be advanced further to be even more potent and effective.”

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, which owns the British Journal of Cancer, said: “This is an interesting application of PDT. Using targeted treatments with better delivery and manipulating the body’s own immune system to fight the disease means patients would experience fewer side effects. Although this type of vaccine is in its early stages, developing existing techniques in this way could provide us with more effective treatments in the future.”