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New hope for cancer vaccines
By Sharon Guynup

One of the greatest hopes in fighting cancers such as neuroblastoma, a common and deadly childhood malignancy, is immunotherapy using a 'cancer vaccine.' But the greatest challenge scientists face in engineering a successful vaccine is finding an effective method of delivery to cancerous cells. Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, may have hurdled this problem with the discovery of a new and better way of transferring genes into tumor cells in mice.

The cancer vaccine, which is a form of gene therapy, strengthens the body's own immune response, prompting T cells to attack tumor cells. This either destroys the malignant cells or suppresses their growth and metastasis.

Tumors form when rogue cells evade attack by immune fighters because they are not detected as foreign cells. The vaccine delivers a gene into tumor cells, which causes the cells to secrete cytokines. These substances identify it as an invader, launching an anti-tumor immune response. Commercially available gene-transfer techniques have had limited success because few genes reach the nucleus of targeted tumor cells.

In a study of mice with neuroblastoma, the authors used a new method to transfer genes into malignant cells, a transport method known as histone H2A-based transient transfection. They found it produced a double-whammy response. It was not only better at getting genes into the cell nucleus, but stimulated the production of a larger and stronger army of killer T cells to fight the cancerous intruder. This is particularly important in cancers such as neuroblastoma, which trigger only minimal natural immune responses. The team published their study results in the October 10 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Balicki, D., Reisfeld, R.A., Pertl, U., Beutler, E. & Lode, H.N. Histone H2A-mediated transient cytokine gene delivery induces efficient antitumor responses in murine neuroblastoma. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 97, 11500-11504 (October 10, 2000).

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