From Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth comes an entirely new approach to fighting cancer. It's a perfect example of science turning what was a disease into a tool to fight another diseases.
Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) is a single-celled parasite that is happiest in a cat's intestines, but it can live in any warm blooded animal. Found worldwide, T. gondii affects about one-third of the world's population, 60 million of which are Americans.
In response to T. gondii, the body produces natural killer cells and cytotoxic T cells. These cell types wage war against cancer cells. Cancer can shut down the body's defensive mechanisms, but introducing T. gondii into a tumor environment can jump start the immune system.
"The biology of this organism is inherently different from other microbe-based immunotherapeutic strategies that typically just tickle immune cells from the outside," said Barbara Fox, senior research associate of Microbiology and Immunology. "By gaining preferential access to the inside of powerful innate immune cell types, our mutated strain of T. gondii reprograms the natural power of the immune system to clear tumor cells and cancer."
Engineering T. gondii as a Cancer Vaccine
Since it isn't safe to inject a cancer patient with live replicating strains of T. gondii, Bzik and Fox created "cps," an immunotherapeutic vaccine. Based on the parasite's biochemical pathways, they delete a Toxoplasma gene needed to make a building block of its genome and create a mutant parasite that can be grown in the laboratory but is unable to reproduce in animals or people. Cps is both nonreplicating and safe. Even when the host is immune deficient, cps still retains that unique biology that stimulates the ideal vaccine responses.
... tested the cps vaccine in extremely aggressive lethal mouse models of melanoma or ovarian cancer and found unprecedented high rates of cancer survival.
"Cps stimulates amazingly effective immunotherapy against cancers, superior to anything seen before," said Bzik. "The ability of cps to communicate in different and unique ways with the cancer and special cells of the immune system breaks the control that cancer has leveraged over the immune system."
... a lot more study is needed before cps leaves the laboratory. [emphasis mine]