Loading cancer vaccines into silicon microparticles could stop tumors in their tracks

Scientists have found that loading breast cancer vaccine into silicon microparticles triggers a much improved immune response (Image: Haifa Shen lab/Houston Methodist)

A key battleground in the fight against cancer has been the development of vaccines to stop tumors taking hold. These are intended to kick the body's own immune system into action to fend off the cancerous cells, with immunotherapy drugs for melanomas, prostate and lung cancer all emerging in recent years. But one hurdle oncologists are yet to tackle with any great success is a vaccine for breast cancer. New research now suggests this mightn't be all that far away, with the discovery that loading cancer antigens into silicon microparticles serves to greatly boost the immune response.

"We could completely inhibit tumor growth after just one dose of the cancer vaccine in the animal model," says principal investigator Haifa Shen of the Houston Methodist Research institute. "This is the most amazing result we have ever seen in a tumor treatment study."

Led by Shen, a team of Houston Methodist researchers explored the potential of porous silicon microparticles (PSM) as a carrier of the vaccine through in vivo and in vitro studies. They found that the PSM was able to protect the antigen from destruction for long enough to enable a sustained release.

But just as importantly, the researchers found that the PSMs themselves had a role to play destroying the tumor. The microparticles kicked off a potent immune response at tumor sites, altering the environment in a way that allows cytotoxic T cells to better perform the cancer cell-killing duties.

In what could have significant ramifications across the entire field of cancer research, the scientists found that the PSMs behaved this way whether or not they were loaded with antigens. This means that the microparticles have the potential to work with a variety of cancers.

"Besides developing a highly potent breast cancer vaccine, we have also demonstrated that PSMs are versatile," says Shen. "This is a technology platform that can be applied by other scientists to develop vaccines for other types of cancers, ultimately helping, we hope, more types of cancer patients."

The research was published in the journal Cell Reports.

Source: Houston Methodist Research institute

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