Vaccines against cancer are being sought on various fronts. That is not simple, as unlike the agents that cause most other diseases, cancer cells originate from within the body. Therefore, the immune system either does not recognise them or recognises them too late.
In principle, Ioan-Facsinay managed to solve this problem for some types of cancer. She successfully attached material from the tumour to antibodies. The immune cells from the mouse were then treated with this complex and injected back into the mouse. A vaccine was made from these re-injected cells, which induced an immune response against this cancer in animal experiments. Certain proteins in the surface of the immune cells, the so-called Fc receptors, are particularly important for the effectiveness of this vaccine.
The vaccine was also found to have a protective effect against cancer in new mice. Therefore, in principle, the vaccine can be used for prevention as well as treatment. For example, such a preventative use would be important for families with a high incidence of a certain form of cancer.
Fc receptors also play a role in arthritis and the immune response to the bacteria which cause whooping cough, as well as a possible role in allergies. These diseases can probably be treated or prevented by rendering these receptors invisible or by bombarding them with antibodies. However, further research is needed for this.
The researcher is optimistic about the possibilities of this research leading to the production of a vaccine against cancer, but she remains realistic about this. It will be at least two more years before experiments can be carried out on humans and then at least another eight years before there is a commercially available vaccine.
For further information please contact Andreea Ioan-Facsinay (Department of Rheumatology, Leiden University Medical Center), tel. +31 (0)71 5264665 (work), +31 (0)30 2944810 (home), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (work), email@example.com (home). The defence of the doctoral thesis will take place on 28 February 2003. Ms Ioan-Facsinay's supervisors are Prof. J.G.J. van de Winkel and Prof. G.J.B. van Ommen.
The research was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).