Mar. 13, 1998 Researchers at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center have developed a one-step method to create patient-specific vaccines against cancers and infectious diseases. These "customized" vaccines are made by combining heat shock proteins with tumor antigen proteins obtained from tumor masses removed from the body.
Heat shock proteins, also known as HSPs, are found in every cell of every living organism, from bacteria to plants to man. Researchers don't totally understand the role of HSPs within the human body. What is known is that HSPs act as chaperons, helping to move other proteins from one part of the cell to another.
Recent research suggests that HSPs might also serve as a danger signal, activating the body's immune system response to fight the cancer. However, HSPs alone can not trigger the immune system. Instead, HSPs serve as carriers of specific tumor antigens. The HSPs must be attached to protein antigens from the specific tumor and transport those proteins to the body's immune cells.
"Our research team believes that the cancer itself is not the key problem. All of us may have hundreds of cancers in our lifetime, but our immune system recognizes these abnormalities and removes them before they can develop into disease. The problem is when our immune system is unable to recognize the cancer cells and is therefore unable to combat the tumor. When heat shock proteins are combined with protein antigens from a specific tumor, this enables the body*s immune system to recognize the type of cancer cells and elicit an appropriate immune response,* said Pope Moseley, M.D., chief of the UNM School of Medicine*s Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Division, within the Department of Internal Medicine. UNM researchers devised a simple, one-step method to purify the HSP-tumor antigen protein complex. The tumor-specific vaccine is synthesized by purifying the HSP-containing fraction of tumor cells which are limited to the tumor antigens. The protein complex that is produced, then has the ability to trigger the desired tumor immune response. UNM is currently seeking to license this technology.
"There has been a phenomenal explosion in heat shock protein research. Cancer immunotherapy is one of the exciting new areas in cancer research.This technology is suitable for kit applications, making it possible for any hospital or other setting to conveniently generate vaccines that naturally occur in a certain type of tissue or in a specific structure of the body," said Erik Wallen, M.S., senior research assistant at the UNM School of Medicine.
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