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Imagine receiving a vaccine that would teach your body how to fight off any form of cancer. Big news out of Montreal suggests that such a treatment might be on the horizon, and isn’t as far away as we’d initially thought.

Researchers at the University of Montreal’s Institute for Research in Immunology have made progress on a targeted cell-based therapy for cancer that may lead to a vaccine once considered a pipe dream.

“I’m extremely optimistic about these discoveries, that this one and others in the immunotherapy field will really change the face of the treatment of cancer,” said Dr. Michel Bouvier, director at the research facility.

Unlike most traditional vaccines, this therapy would not prevent cancer from appearing, but rather, it would fight cancer without attacking one’s own healthy cells when it does.

“We’re talking about therapeutic vaccines — vaccines that would treat or hopefully even cure a cancer,” said Bouvier.

The promising treatment works with the body’s own immune system, training its T cells or lymphocytes (basically the warriors of our immune systems) to combat cancer as they would a virus. The treatment even has the potential to replace chemo and radiation therapy.

Bouvier explains that the vaccine could “educate the immune cells to recognize the signature of the cancer cells, so that they could attack specifically the tumors of a patient.”

Researchers have already had some success with this treatment on animals — the next step is to begin clinical trials on humans. The team plans to start such treatments on leukemia patients at Maisonneuve Rosemont Hospital in Montreal this April, and is optimistic about the outcome. Hopefully, the clinical trials will lead to the development of a vaccine with the power to fight even the most aggressive forms of cancer, including breast, ovarian, lung and colon.

“This is extremely exciting,” said Bouvier. “We think that five to ten years would be the timing where this should be possible to have vaccines against not only one but a few cancers.”

We certainly hope that it does lead to a vaccine, and sooner rather than later, because there are a lot of people who could use one right now.

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