US scientists have started a vaccine trial that will protect people from developing pancreatic cancer.
A team at Johns Hopkins University in the US administered the first preventive jab in a woman with a family history of the disease, Daily Mail reported. They aim to involve 25 healthy volunteers at high risk of pancreatic cancer with genetic history.
According to experts, more than 90 percent of pancreatic cancer cases develop after the organ’s cells develop a mutation to a particular gene called KRAS. The mutation makes cells divide uncontrollably, which eventually means cancer.
While some people are more prone to developing the KRAS fault than others, scientists speculate that pancreatic cancer can be prevented by eliminating the cells containing the errant gene.
And the novel vaccine does the same.
It can equip the human body with the tools that can find rogue cells, which can in the long run become cancerous. This enables the immune system to launch preemptive ‘search and destroy missions that will continually nip the problem in the bud, the report said.
Survival rates for pancreatic cancer have been stubbornly low with three-quarters of patients dying within a year of diagnosis.
Thus, “the best way of treating this disease is catching it early because it’s so challenging. As cancer develops, it becomes harder to treat. And it’s very good at hiding from our immune system”, oncologist Dr. Neeha Zaidi, who is leading the trial, was quoted as saying.
Zaidi noted that people aren’t born with the KRAS mutation, it takes at least a decade from the first mutation occurring, to the development of pancreatic cancer.
The vaccine prompts the immune system to recognize cells containing the mutated KRAS gene through tiny protein ‘flags’ on the surface, the report said.
Besides exploring the safety profile of the vaccine, the trial will also gauge the ‘immune response’ it triggers. In particular, the team will look for aT-cells’ specifically capable of recognizing KRAS-infected cells, the report said.
Meanwhile, Zaidi noted that it can take up to a decade to get hard evidence that the vaccine prevented pancreatic cancer. “This is the first step to a very large goal,” she stressed.