Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that affects over 200,000 people worldwide, and an estimated half of those diagnosed develop further symptoms. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer. Much research has been conducted into developing less invasive treatments for this form of cancer as well as preventive methods other than daily sunscreen application. A new study has looked into the possibility of using a nano-vaccine as a method for both.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that presents in the form of protrusions in the skin, which may develop from or resemble moles, as well as other minute symptoms. It can be caused by excessive exposure to UV radiation, which can be caused by the use of tanning beds or even too much time under the sun. Those with a genetic predisposition to the disease are most vulnerable, though age, where you live and a history of skin sensitivity may also be factors.
How Can it be Treated?
In most cases, if caught early, melanoma is curable with the help of surgery. However, more aggressive forms of the disease, as well as melanoma in later stages may require such treatments as immunotherapy, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
A recent study suggests a new possible method of both preventing and reversing the development of melanoma skin cancer. The results of this study were published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology in August 2019.
According to scientists at the Tel Aviv University (TAU) in Israel, a ground-breaking new method is being developed to treat and prevent melanoma, and it involves the use of nano-vaccines. Ideally, these nano-vaccines would play the role of sensitizing the immune system to the disease.
How Does a Nano-Vaccine Work?
Melanoma specifically attacks the skin cells of the body that produce the pigment melanin. Within cells affected by melanoma are certain varieties of amino acid chains called peptides. The researchers harnessed 2 specific chains of peptides present in melanoma cells, along with a large number of nano-particles ranging approximately 170 nanometers in size (one nanometer being one billionth of a meter).
The resultant “nano-vaccine” was then introduced into the bloodstream of mice determined to be suffering from melanoma. Much like other vaccinations for communicable diseases currently available, such as those for chickenpox and polio, nano-vaccines work similarly to stimulate the immune system.
On introduction of the nano-particles into the body of the test mice, the immune cells immediately identified the intruder, the melanoma cells present in the peptides. Once the immune system has identified the trespasser that had previously been minimally noticed, the immune cells begin to attack the melanoma cells.
A Three-Pronged Attack
Much like the immune system attacks harmful and unwanted cells, the researchers of the TAU approached this study with a three-pronged attack against the illness.
The first approach tested the preventive capacity of the nano-vaccine. Healthy mice were injected with the nano-vaccine, and shortly after, melanoma cells were introduced into their bloodstream. Despite exposure to harmful melanoma cells, the mice did not develop the disease, showing that nano-vaccines can be developed to prevent melanoma from occurring.
The second phase of the study tested the effectiveness of the vaccine on primary tumors, a symptom of the early to mid-stages of the illness. Existing immunotherapy treatments were combined with designated doses of the nano-vaccine and tested on mice suffering from melanoma tumors.
The combined treatment of immunotherapy and the developed nano-vaccine resulted in a significant delay in the progression of melanoma in the affected mice. The researchers also observed greater longevity than expected prior to the treatment.
The final prong of this study was conducted on tissue belonging to patients that suffered from late stages of melanoma and melanoma that has metastasized in the brain. This test validated the results of the prior tests and showed that the nano-vaccines could slow down the progression of the disease even during later stages.
A New Hope?
The nano-vaccination approach is a new study in the field of cancer and melanoma research that has the potential to one day save many lives. This study shows us that nano-vaccines could truly help thousands of people suffering from melanoma and prevent the disease from metastasizing in many more.
Further research is still being conducted into the development of this nano-vaccine, but the researchers of TAU are hopeful that research into the melanoma vaccination could also create a platform for the treatment of various other types of cancer.