Scientists at Tel Aviv University (TAU) have announced that they may have created a vaccine for melanoma, the most aggressive type of skin cancer. According to their research, published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the vaccine they developed is effective in preventing the development of melanoma and in treating primary tumors and metastases that result from melanoma in the mouse models they used.
The project was funded by EuroNanoMed-II, 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.
Melanoma develops in the skin cells that produce melanin or skin pigment. Unrepaired DNA damage to those skin cells can trigger genetic defects that lead them to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. The majority are black or brown, but they can also be white, pink, red, purple, blue or skin-colored. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more than 190,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year in the United States.
The researchers developed an innovative method to pack short chains of amino acids typically expressed in melanoma cells into tiny particles of a biodegradable polymer. This substance was them injected into mouse models bearing melanoma. Two different types of mouse models were used.
When the vaccine was injected into healthy mice and followed by an injection of melanoma cells, the vaccine prevented the disease. When the vaccine was used with immunotherapy treatments to treat infected mice, the treatment significantly slowed the progression of the disease and greatly extended the lives of all of the treated mice.
Ronit Satchi-Fainaro, 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 said, “The nanoparticles acted just like known vaccines for viral-borne diseases. They stimulated the immune system of the mice, and the immune cells learned to identify and attack cells containing the two peptides—that is, the melanoma cells. This meant that, from now on, the immune system of the immunized mice will attack melanoma cells if and when they appear in the body.”