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expert reaction to study looking at a stem cell vaccine for cancer in mice

Researchers publishing in Cell report that injecting mice with inactivated induced pluripotent stem cells launched an immune response against breast, lung, and skin cancers.


Prof. Angus Dalgleish FMedSci, Principal of the Institute for Cancer Vaccines and Immunotherapy, and Professor of Oncology, St Georges, University of London, said:

“It has been known for decades that immunising against strong cancer antigens can induce an immune response that can eliminate established tumours.  However, the tumours rapidly become resistant as the cells without the targeted antigen take over.  Another problem is that most solid tumours can recur after the primary tumour has been eliminated.  This has been shown to be associated with early stem cells which start to divide after the main tumour has been eliminated and slowly go on to produce more tumour cells.  The difference between the approach presented by Kooreman et al and all the other anti cancer immunotherapies to date is that they have shown that the cancer stem cells and normal body stem cells share important antigens and have therefore used these basic body stem cells (which unlike cancer specific stem cells are easy to harvest and expand) as a vaccine procedure to induce cancer specific immune activity.  The approach has been reported to be effective in both melanoma and breast cancer models in mice.

“Unfortunately many such therapies are very effective in mice and translate poorly to human cancers.  However, this one incorporates a core unique strategy that if further research goes well could help eradicate the trend for so many cancers to recur in humans after the primary has been removed.”


Prof. Daniel Davis, Professor of Immunology, University of Manchester, said:

“Because stem cells share some traits with cancer cells, it has long been suggested that irradiated (dead) stem cells might be used as a vaccine to cancer.  Here, mice vaccinated with stem cells were shown to develop an immune response able to fight cancer to some extent.  Crucially, as the authors say themselves, we have no idea if something like this could work in humans.  If it does, this type of cancer treatment is most likely to be useful in combination with other therapies.  In the meantime, as scientists often quip, this is good news for mice.”


* ‘Autologous iPSC-based vaccines elicit anti-tumor responses in vivo’ by Nigel G. Kooreman et al. published in Cell Stem Cell on Thursday 15 February 2018.


Declared interests

Prof. Angus Dalgleish: “I have been on numerous advisory boards and have been a previous director of Onyvax, no longer trading.  I am an unpaid advisor to Immodulon main board, having been a CI and PI of their product.  I receive grants from Celgene, LDNPharma, Jay Pharma to develop immune modulatory drugs, and ICVI for our vaccine work (a charity).  I developed from lab to first in clinic, Lenalidomide for Celgene which was the second biggest selling drug world wide last year.”

Prof. Daniel Davis: “Daniel M. Davis, author of The Beautiful Cure, and Professor of Immunology, University of Manchester, UK.  I have no conflict of interest here.”


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