COVID brought the idea of mRNA vaccines to the attention of the world – now, cancer researchers are investigating how a similar vaccine could stop tumours in a single treatment
As the first mRNA vaccines to be approved for use in humans, they are a breakthrough in medicine.
The technology of this vaccine is new in the eyes of the global population, meaning that people are understanding how it works on a mass-scale for the first time. And that newness is open to exploitation online – misinformation campaigns paint a dark picture of the mRNA tech involved.
But the vaccine won’t microchip you, make you infertile or change your DNA.
So, what exactly is an mRNA vaccine?
According to the Centre for Disease Control, messenger RNA (mRNA) gives our cells information, the same way that other vaccines do.
However, other vaccines might give our cell the information by giving them a tiny piece of the actual virus. Then the body produces antibodies to fight that piece of virus, and is aware of what it looks like.
With mRNA, there is no piece of the virus.
The body just gets the information about what the virus looks like, so that it can make good antibodies in response. This, for COVID-19, means the body is told what the spike protein looks like. The infamous spike protein is how COVID gets into our cells, making it the most crucial thing to protect against.
When the mRNA vaccine has given our body that information, our body gets rid of the instructions. The messenger is organically destroyed, and all that’s left is a body that is capable of recognising and fighting the COVID-19 virus.
How can an mRNA vaccine be used to fight cancer?
Researchers have created a gel, that can be injected into mice with melanoma. This hydrogel slowly releases RNA nannovaccines, which actually shrunk cancer tumours and stopped them from growing.
The American Chemical Society are publishing this study in Nano Letters.
The same mechanism as a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine is there – except instead of attacking the virus, the body is taught to attack tumour cells.
The only problem is that mRNA is easily degraded by enzymes found in the body. This is how the ‘instructions’ are organically destroyed when it comes to COVID vaccines. So, the researchers tried to protect the mRNA from the body until it could target really target the cancer.
The hydrogel that the research team created, could be injected under the skin of mice and then slowly release mRNA (and adjuvant nanoparticles) over a 30-day period.
The mRNA vaccine activated T cells and stimulated antibody production.
Incredibly, this caused tumours to shrink in the treated mice. In contrast to untreated mice, the vaccinated mice did not show any metastasis to their lungs.
The authors, Guangjun Nie, Hai Wang and colleagues, said: “These results demonstrate that the hydrogel has great potential for achieving long-lasting and efficient cancer immunotherapy with only a single treatment.”