Novel vaccine targets cancer cells’ ’sweet spot’

January 12th, 2009 - 1:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 12 (IANS) Researchers are working on sugar molecules astride tumour cells’ surfaces to develop a new vaccine that targets and halts cancers of the prostate, breast, ovaries and lungs. The low-cost immunotherapy for prostate carcinoma they are developing may also be effective in a variety of other carcinomas as well.

Alessandra Franco, assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine (UCSDSM) and associates have spent the last decade proving that immune system’s ‘killer’ T-cells can recognise sugars on tumour cell surfaces.

Her lab pioneered and developed the notion that conventional T-cells recognise not only peptides, or pieces of proteins, but also sugars, specifically small carbohydrates called tumour-associated carbohydrate antigens (TACA) expressed on carcinoma cell surfaces. Ideally, this recognition enables the T-cell to attach to and kill the cancer cell.

The researchers have designed “glycopeptides”, compounds in which sugars are linked to peptides that are recognised by T-cells. When given as part of a vaccine therapy, these glycopeptides rouse immune system T-cells into recognising TACA on tumour cell surfaces, attacking and killing the cancer cells.

Her research team has already shown that both normal mice and mice with tumours that were vaccinated could successfully generate carbohydrate-specific T-cells that could kill tumours expressing the same carbohydrate molecule, said a UCSDSM release.

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