Other cancer vaccines are in development (some in clinical trials). Most of these vaccines require removing immune cells from the body to reprogram them to attack cancers before returning them to the body. Most of these cells die before they can have any significant effect on resident tumors. The implant reprograms the cells without removing them from the body, creating a more effective and less cumbersome process.
The vaccine implants, 8.5 millimeter in diameter disks made of an FDA-approved biodegradable polymer, are highly permeable to immune cells and release cytokines to attract dendritic cells. Once inside the implant, these cells are exposed to antigens for the particular type of cancer being targeted. After leaving the implant, the dendritic cells approach the nearest lymph nodes and direct the resident T cells to find and destroy tumor cells matching the specified target.
Because there are lymph nodes all over the body and they will act in concert with each other once one is alerted to an invader to attack, the implants can be inserted anywhere under the skin.
Another advantage to this new approach to treating cancer is that it very specifically targets only malignant cells and should have no impact on healthy cells, even those closest to the tumor site. Although not yet tested, the researchers also believe the implants will generate long-term resistance to the targeted cancer cells, greatly limiting relapses. Note that any such resistance would only be to the specific strain of cancer originally targeted; other cancers would still occur at their natural rate of incidence.
TFOT has previously reported on innovations in cancer research including a virus that makes cancer cells glow when exposed to particular wavelengths of light, the use of gold nanorods to seek out and destroy cancer cells without damaging nearby healthy cells, a new screening method that detects cancer in its earliest stages, and a new sensor that can detect lung cancer by analyzing patients’ breath.
Read more about implantable delivery systems on lead researcher David Mooney’s Harvard University research page.