Efforts to enlist the immune system in the fight against cancer have generally yielded disappointing results. Scientists have yet to create a so-called cancer vaccine that reliably primes the immune system to recognize malignant cells and target them for destruction.
Having taken an unusual approach in their experiments on mice, researchers now report that destroying perfectly good skin cells can incite the immune system to kill the cancerous versions of these cells—with only modest side effects.
The potential treatment targets melanocytes, the cells that give skin its pigmentation. When malignant, these cells become melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Although the experimental therapy would be a treatment for existing disease, the researchers refer to it as a cancer vaccine since it enlists the immune system to kill malignant cells, says study coauthor Gregory A. Daniels, a medical oncologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.