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Cancer is such a far-reaching disease that has affected so many people in countless different ways. While modern technology and medicine have made it possible to treat different kinds of cancer, there is no cure, and it can still be deadly.
Don’t get us wrong, scientists have been working on a cancer vaccine for ages. The issue is that cancer isn’t a virus, and it’s hard to target cancer cells. So, vaccines that have been developed haven’t had a ton of luck against the disease.
“[Cancer] vaccines stimulate production of T cells primed to attack the target cancer, and there are many T cells in the bloodstream after vaccination. We found that only a few get to the tumor while many more are stuck at, or double back to, the vaccination site,” says Willem Overwijk, Ph.D., associate professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology. The vaccine itself gets the attention of the immune cells, so not as many of those T cells end up focusing on attacking the tumor.
But the tides could be turning.
On Saturday, pharma company Moderna announced that vaccines for cancer, cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases and other conditions could be available by the end of the decade. It’s working on cancer vaccines to target different tumor types.
“We will have that vaccine and it will be highly effective, and it will save many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives. I think we will be able to offer personalized cancer vaccines against multiple different tumor types to people around the world,” said Dr. Paul Burton, the chief medical officer of Moderna.
A personalized cancer vaccine would follow certain steps. First, a biopsy of the patient’s tumor would be sent to a lab for DNA sequencing. Then, computers would figure out which mutations are causing the cancer’s growth. A piece of mRNA would then be created to get the body to make special antigens for the immune response. When the mRNA is in the body, it’ll act as protein pieces found in tumor cells. These mRNA-carrying cells will destroy cancer cells with these same proteins.