AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tweaking a protein expressed by most liver cancer cells has enabled scientists to make a vaccine that is exceedingly effective at preventing the disease in mice.
Alpha-Fetoprotein, or AFP – normally expressed during development and
by liver cancer cells as well – has escaped attack in previous vaccine
iterations because the body recognizes it as "self," said Dr. Yukai He,
immunologist at the Medical College of Georgia and Georgia Regents
University Cancer Center.
Liver cancer is among the fastest-growing and deadliest cancers in
the United States with a 17 percent three-year survival rate. Vaccines
help direct the immune system to attack invaders by showing it a
representative substance, called an antigen, that the body will
recognize as foreign, in this case, AFP for liver cancer.
In a process called antigen engineering, He tweaked AFP just enough
to get the immune system to recognize it but still keep the AFP
expressed by liver cancer cells in the bull's eye, he and his colleagues
report in the journal Hepatology.
[Hong Y, Peng Y, Guo ZS, Guevara-Patino J, Pang J, Butterfield
LH, Mivechi NF, Munn DH, Bartlett DL, He Y. Epitope-optimized
alpha-fetoprotein genetic vaccines prevent carcinogen-induced murine
autochthonous hepatocellular carcinoma. Hepatology. 2014