Cancer Vaccination

There is Currently No Vaccine for Cancer. But Once Your Immune System “Sees” and Hopefully Destroys a Cancer, it Potentially Has the Ability to Remember It and Immediately Stop a Recurrence.cancer-vaccine

You never get the same disease twice. Well, this is not quite true, but if your immune system has recognized and defeated an invading germ, it will remember that for a very long time, perhaps the rest of your life. If the same strain returns, it will be quickly destroyed by your immune system.

The adaptive immune system is so name because it adapts to each disease. (To learn all about the adaptive immune system see Immune System Basics: The Adaptive Immune System.) Vaccines exploit this by infecting the body with a harmless variant of the disease. The adaptive immune system reacts to this, and as part of the immune reaction, generates “memory cells” that will quickly recognize any instance of the “real” disease.

Now what is not widely known among the general public is that the adaptive immune system goes after cancer as well. In fact, it is the first line of defense. This is a little tricky, because cancerous tissue is our own “stuff,” and the adaptive immune system is supposed to leave our own stuff alone. However, cancer cells are broken cells, and there are often identifiable markers that the immune cells can and do attack.

For two decades, medicine has attempted to exploit this with monoclonal antibody therapy, wherein antibodies were in effect tweaked and farmed to specifically latch on to some tumor antigen, the idea being that the adaptive immune system would spot that and kill the tumor.

While a neat idea, in practice it hasn’t worked out very well. People’s lives have been extended for a few months, but at tremendous cost; both physical and financial. The hope, of course, was that the tumor would be eradicated and the patient saved. So what went wrong?

Some scientists at Rockefeller University have announced what may be a breakthrough. They discovered that for antibodies to work, they need to trigger two different types of immune system cells. But it turns out that the receptors on these two cells are not identical. This means an antibody that would trigger one, might not trigger the other. For the antibody to work, it had to trigger both. These researchers were able to engineer an antibody that would trigger both, and tested it on mice.

cancer-cute-mouseSays researcher DiLillo: “Current antibody therapies are only engineered to improve the immediate killing of tumor cells, but not the formation of immunological memory. We are proposing that an ideal antibody therapy would be engineered to take full advantage of both steps.”

This would seem to be a possible breakthrough. In any case, it makes sense that we would want to invoke the long-term memory feature inherent in the adaptive immune system. These researchers have done just that, albeit with mice.

Long term memory of a cancer cell? Would it be possible to vaccinate? There are several cancers actually caused by viruses or bacteria, and while vaccination against the microbe makes sense, it’s not targeting the cancer itself. Others, which are also called vaccines, are therapeutic in nature—they are trying to destroy an existing tumor. Most that have been developed are in this category. And most are given as a last resort, and of course by that point the cancer is well entrenched. This is probably the primary reason for the disappointing results: the cancer has simply gone too far.

But, could a vaccine be developed that prevented a tumor in the first place? A tumor has to go through many steps to become lethal. The earliest steps aren’t treated. In fact, they’re not normally detectable at all.

A successful vaccine would probably have to attack at an early level. Unfortunately, that makes it kind of a non-starter from a business point of view, at least today. A cancer treatment engineered to a specific persons immune system is a very expensive proposition. A typical price might be $50,000 to $100,000. And that would be for one cancer, or at least for a single cancer characteristic common to several cancers. Who would pay this for a disease they don’t have and might never get? This approach, on the other hand, might never be feasible for other reason. Cancers adapt and mutate constantly. The reason we keep getting the common cold is that the cold virus, in effect, is constantly changing its spots and slipping by the immune system. Cancers can do this too.

Given that the immune system, with no help at all from any engineered drugs, detects and destroys over 99% of the cancers that develop, the best cancer prevention strategy is to get the immune system up to peak performance and maintain it there. And the best way to do that is Quantitative Medicine. (Bet you knew that was coming—but it works!) By following the QM protocols, cancer risk can be substantially reduced. The right exercise alone can reduce cancer 30-40%, stress reduction gets you 50% on top of that, and the right diet will push it further. Hunter-gatherers are reported to have very low rates of cancer—practically non-existent. They are “immune,” but need no shots. We can do this too.

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