Harvard scientists thrilled with new personalized cancer vaccine

Although the pandemic has put many things on hold, it has also spurred advancement in a variety of fields. For instance, there’s been a lot of interest and investment in vaccine technology for coronavirus, but the Covid-19 virus is not the only illness we can fend off with the surge of new vaccine research.

For instance, a team of researchers from Harvard University has designed a personalized cancer vaccine that induces an immune response to fight off melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. To determine how effective it is, scientists examined eight patients who had their melanoma surgically removed, but were at high risk of recurrence. All the patients were injected with NeoVax, the experimental vaccine. The promising results showed that all eight of them had a vaccine-induced immune response that could persist for years.

The vaccine encourages the immune system to make anti-tumor T-cells, which are white blood cells that help the body develop long-lasting immunities. The T-cells that develop are specific to each tumor and patient. Patrick Ott, associate professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School, says that the vaccines “are truly personal in the sense that they are tailored to each individual patient,” because it reacts to personal neoantigens which are “only seen in that individual patient’s tumor.”

These results are promising, but because the sample was so small, the team’s next step is to make changes to the vaccine so it can be tested on a variety of different tumor types and stages.

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