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Universal cancer vaccine being developed

Inhibiting the telomerase enzyme, present in most cancers, may prevent cell division but some scientists warn of "more harm than good."

By | August 31, 2000

LONDON, August 30 (SPIS MedWire). A universal vaccine for all cancers is being developed, according to a report in Nature Medicine. The vaccine targets the enzyme telomerase, which is present in most cancers; inhibition of telomerase means that the cells are unable to divide and therefore die. Professor Eli Gilboa, from Duke University Medical Center in Durham, New Carolina, commented, "The thinking has been that because every cancer is different … each cancer has its own specific set of antigens that must be used for a vaccine. We're looking for a universal antigen - one antigen to try to treat every cancer patient." The team modified cells to carry part of the telomerase protein, which activated the immune system to attack cancer cells that produced telomerase. Laboratory experiments showed the vaccine was capable of slowing the growth of skin, breast and bladder cancers when implanted into mice, and was also effective against human cancer cells. However, Professor Nick Lemoine, from Imperial Cancer Research Fund's Molecular Oncology Unit, pointed out that telomerase is also present in similar amounts in bone marrow, reproductive organs, and probably other tissues. He warned, "There is a significant danger that triggering the immune system to seek and destroy telomerase-positive cells could do more harm than good."

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