New approach to activate immune cells for cancer vaccine


Immune cells obtained from cancer patients have long been used as vaccines for cancer treatment, with some success. A recent study from IGP shows that in a similar fashion immune cells obtained from healthy donors can activate the needed immune cells and lead to robust and specific immune responses. The findings indicate a possibility to create a cancer vaccine that can readily be used for many patients.

In cancer vaccines, the patient’s immune system is stimulated to recognize and eradicate the cancer. One way of achieving this stimulation is to use immune cells called dendritic cells that are obtained from the patient, cultivated and engineered in the lab, and then injected back to the same patient. However, it appears that the therapeutic effect is not obtained directly from the injected cells but rather from resident dendritic cells that take up material from the dying injected cells.

“Our study was based on that it’s actually the resident dendritic cells – we call them bystander dendritic cells – and not the injected ones that stimulate the immune response. Since there are often logistic problems with handling cells from the patient, we evaluated the possibility to use dendritic cells from another source instead,” says Grammatiki Fotaki, PhD student at IGP and first author of the study.

In mouse models, the researchers used dendritic cells from a donor and genetically manipulated them to produce tumour-associated antigens after injection. The antigens were produced locally, at the injection site, but allowed bystander dendritic cells to be recruited and activated to promote an anti-tumour immune response.

“Instead of manipulating patients’ own cells to activate their immune response, we have shown that the immune response activation can be out-sourced to a healthy donor. This drastically simplified the manufacture procedure and can ideally be setup as an off-the-shelf vaccine to be used for many patients”, says Di Yu, who led the study.

In the future the researchers aim to identify the optimally efficient vaccination strategy by testing the combination of donor dendritic cells with different kinds of genetic manipulations to produce immune modulators or antigens.

The study has been published in two papers in the journal OncoImmunology and was funded by Immunicum AB, a leading developer in the field of allogeneic dendritic cell vaccines.

More information:
Article I in OncoImmunology
Article II in OncoImmunology
Grammatiki Fotaki’s and Di Yu’s research in Magnus Essand’s group