A team of academics lead by University of Maryland’s Christopher Jewell, professor of bioengineering, have been awarded a $375,000 grant this week to develop a vaccine to help combat neuroblastoma, the third most common pediatric cancer.
The prototype vaccine tackles the cancer cells through stimulating the body’s own immune response. What Professor Jewel hopes will make this vaccine work more effectively than prior treatments is the ability to induce the body to produce substantial amounts of the central memory T cells, which prove to be effective in penetrating cancer cells.
The vaccine contains two elements, an antigen to stimulate inactive T cells to attack the neuroblastoma cells, but also a number of small molecules that are designed to mimic the chemical signals immune cells communicate by. The idea being that after the initial call to arms, the now active T cells can be prompted into transforming into the effective central memory T cells. These elements are then encapsulated in a unique biodegradable polymer ‘depot’ which will ensure that the vaccine reaches the lymph nodes in tact and is released at the right time.
The grant was given to Professor Jewel by the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a charity set in memory of young Alexandra Scott who died of Nuroblastoma in 2004 after raising money for cancer research by selling lemonade on her front lawn.
The hope is that through this novel vaccine and other treatments in the pipeline, young and old cancer patients may be able to escape the the current crop of treatments which often have extreme side effects with small benefits.
“Cancer vaccines represent a new class of therapies, and biomaterials have great potential to treat cancers like neuroblastoma…The ALSF’s support and the clinical training we will receive through our collaboration with Children’s National Medical Center have created an amazing opportunity. This investment will have a lasting impact on my lab’s ability to contribute to the pediatric cancer field.”
Christopher M. Jewell, Assistant Professor, A. James Clark School of Engineering, University of Maryland, MD, US
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