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Will Vaccines One Day Fight Cancer?

Anne Trafton | MIT News Office

Publication Date: September 16, 2021


Biologists identify new targets for cancer vaccines


Vaccinating against certain proteins found on cancer cells could help to enhance the T cell response to tumors.


Over the past decade, scientists have been exploring vaccination as a way to help fight cancer. These experimental cancer vaccines are designed to stimulate the body’s own immune system to destroy a tumor, by injecting fragments of cancer proteins found on the tumor.


So far, none of these vaccines have been approved by the FDA, but some have shown promise in clinical trials to treat melanoma and some types of lung cancer. In a new finding that may help researchers decide what proteins to include in cancer vaccines, MIT researchers have found that vaccinating against certain cancer proteins can boost the overall T cell response and help to shrink tumors in mice.


The research team found that vaccinating against the types of proteins they identified can help to reawaken dormant T cell populations that target those proteins, strengthening the overall immune response.


“This study highlights the importance of exploring the details of immune responses against cancer deeply. We can now see that not all anticancer immune responses are created equal, and that vaccination can unleash a potent response against a target that was otherwise effectively ignored,” says Tyler Jacks, the David H. Koch Professor of Biology, a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and the senior author of the study.


MIT postdoc Megan Burger is the lead author of the new study, which appears today in Cell.


T cell competition


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