Lung-Cancer Vaccine with Stem Cells Successful on Mice

Researchers at the University of Louisville have developed a lung-cancer vaccine using embryonic stem cells that has proven to be effective in mice. Though a human vaccine is still far in the future, scientists are optimistic that their recent research may eventually lead to a breakthrough in cancer prevention.

Dr. John Eaton announced the findings this week at a European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) conference in Prague, Czech Republic. According to Eaton, the vaccine is 80 to 100 percent effective in preventing cancer growth in mice after they had been given transplanted tumors and 60 to 90 percent effective in mice that were later exposed to lung-cancer-causing carcinogens.

Eaton, who works at U of L’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center, told the conference, “Cancer has been prevented and even cured in mice hundreds of times.” Eaton and his colleague, Robert Mitchell, are hopeful that their research will lead to further studies about the effectiveness of stem cells in preventing cancer in humans. “Unless something unexpected happens, this strategy might some day be applied to humans who are at high risk,” he added. “If all goes well, then I think this vaccination might best be tested in women at high genetic risk of breast cancer, in people with high genetic risk of colon cancer, and perhaps in smokers.”

Eaton told the Louisville Courier-Journal before he left for the conference that he’s been working on the project for four years and that the vaccine is based on “cranking up” the immune system by injecting subjects with embryonic stem cells. The immune system treats the stem cells as foreign invaders and “fights it off like it would a tumor,” Eaton told the paper. However, it’s not the stem cells themselves that spur the immune system, but proteins contained within the cells. The next step is to identify and isolate the particular proteins in question.

At the conference, Eaton said, “Our results raise the exciting possibility of developing a prophylactic vaccine capable of preventing the appearance of various types of cancers in humans, especially those with hereditary, chronological, or environmental predispositions to neoplastic disease,” before saying that, “given [the FDA’s] stringent regulations I consider it quite likely that, by the time this is tried in humans, I will be pushing up daisies.”

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