Harnessing Liver Tumors to Design Future Cancer Vaccines

Harnessing Liver Tumors to Design Future Cancer Vaccines

BarcelonaThe fight against cancer has changed radically in recent decades with the advent of new treatments such as immunotherapy and gene therapies. The scientific community has deepened its knowledge of the disease, making it possible to better control patients and improve their chances of survival. However, many challenges remain. One of them is to find vaccines against the disease that activate the immune system so that it recognizes cancer cells as foreign and attacks them. One of the keys here may be microproteins, very small molecules found throughout the body and also in tumors. Researchers from the Hospital del Mar, the University of Sima de Navarra and the University of Pompeu Fabra have identified a group of these microproteins that are produced only by liver cancer cells, making them a potential target for the development of new vaccines in the future.

Liver cancer has a small number of mutations, making it difficult for immunotherapies to succeed. The more mutations a tumor has, the more it differs from healthy tissue, and therefore the easier it is for the immune system to detect. To reverse the poor effectiveness of immunotherapy in this type of cancer, the authors of the study published in the journal Scientific progress They studied liver tumors with the aim of finding elements that allow the body’s defenses to be stimulated, and their findings open the door to new treatments. Specifically, the scientists identified a set of small molecules that are only produced by liver cancer cells. “We saw that there are fibrous proteins that are only present in liver tumors. Since the immune system is able to recognize them, this would allow an effective response against cancer cells,” said researcher Ikeria of the Hospital del Mar Research Institute and first author of the study, Mar Alba.

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The researchers analyzed more than 100 liver tumor samples and noticed that the same exact protein was expressed in many patients. Unlike other types of vaccines that rely on mutations specific to each patient, if a treatment is developed that targets these molecules, the treatment could be used in many people, the study authors say. Alba believes vaccines will arrive in the coming years, and explains that what they will do is stimulate the immune system to kill the entire cancer cell, not just the exact protein, which would be a “claim.”

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With this research complete, the authors are now looking at other types of cancer to see if they also contain unique microproteins that could serve as targets for future vaccines. Alba added that they have already discovered molecules specific to breast, lung and kidney cancer, although more research is needed. For Ramón Salazar, head of the Medical Oncology Service at the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO) at the Hospitalet de Llobregat, the conclusions of this study are relevant because these microproteins could be used to manufacture generic vaccines on a mass scale, without the need to personalize each patient individually, “which could mean a major advance.” He explained this in statements to Scientific Media Center He explained that it is a very attractive concept, although he admitted that there is no clinical experience yet.

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