Researchers from Tel Aviv University said they had developed a way to treat skin cancer with the same method used in treating diseases through vaccinations, a feat that has never been done before.
Results published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology showed that the study was found useful in mice, especially against melanoma, the most aggressive type of skin cancer.
Skin cancer — the abnormal growth of skin cells — most often develops on skin exposed to the sun. But this common form of cancer can also occur on areas of your skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight. There are different types of skin cancer, but melanoma proves to be one of the most dangerous forms.
Melanoma develops when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells – most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds – triggers genetic defects that lead them to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.
While it is not the most common of skin cancers, it causes the most deaths. An estimated 7,230 people will die of melanoma in 2019. Of those, 4,740 will be men, and 2,490 will be women.
Fortunately, the study led by Ronit Satchi-Fainaro believes that they have found a way to not only treat melanoma but to also prevent it from occurring.
“The war against cancer in general, and melanoma in particular, has advanced over the years through a variety of treatment modalities, such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy,” according to Satchi-Fainaro who is also the chairwoman of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and Head of the Laboratory for Cancer Research and Nanomedicine at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine.
Satchi-Fainaro also noted that vaccines have long been present in the medical industry to ward off certain diseases, which inspired the idea of developing the same set of mechanisms to treat cancer.
“In our study, we have shown that it is possible to produce an effective nano-vaccine against melanoma and to sensitize the immune system to immunotherapies,” she said.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, an estimated 192,310 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States this year. The majority are black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue, or white.
If the research finds positive results in human subjects, it could ultimately pave the way for a safe and effective way of warding off melanoma the same way a measles vaccine does.
In the experiment, Satchi-Fainaro and her team tested a vaccine made from tiny particles called nano-particles about the size of 170 nanometers.
Working like a vaccine, each nano-particle was integrated with a strain of the melanoma cancer. This helps the body’s natural immune system to discover cancer, develop mechanisms to fight it, and finally, to gain immunity.
Imagine them similar to having chicken pocks for the first time, and our body learns to fight the disease so they can never bother us again. However, in this scenario, the body learns how to fight cancer right before it starts to develop.
To prove the theory, researchers injected the cancer vaccines to two sets of mice: first, the mice that have a high tendency to develop or was previously diagnosed with melanoma and was resected; second, mice that already had melanoma and simultaneously received another treatment such as immunotherapy.
In the first set of mice, the vaccine effectively prevented melanoma from recurring and metastasizing or developing into tumors.
Meanwhile, the second “showed that the vaccine augmented the anticancer effect of the immunotherapy by inhibiting tumor growth and prolonging overall survival.”
In a test to show how effective the vaccine was, researchers tested tissues taken from patients with melanoma brain metastases.
“This was to validate that the two peptides – HLA I and HLA II – that we entrapped in our nano-vaccine were indeed present in samples of melanoma brain metastasis patients, suggesting that our vaccine will be relevant to those patients at advanced stages and not only to those with primary melanoma,” Satchi-Fainaro explained.
For now, the team is looking forward to starting human clinical trials and hopefully start creating an impact in how melanoma can be prevented in the future.
Along with Satchi-Fainaro, Prof. Helena Florindo from the University of Lisbon, Dr. Anna Scomparin and Dr. João Conniot we’re part of the team.
EuroNanoMed-II funded the project along with the Health Ministry, the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, the Israel Science Foundation, the European Research Council’s Consolidator and Advanced Awards, the Saban Family Foundation – Melanoma Research Alliance’s Team Science Award and the Israel Cancer Research Fund.