News Feature | December 12, 2014

Harvard Research Finds Potential 3D Cancer Vaccine

By Suzanne Hodsden

Researchers at Harvard University have discovered a way to inject programmable biomaterial which assembles into 3D structures after the injection. The method has the potential to develop into a vaccine that could treat and possibly prevent cancer and infectious disease.

David Mooney, the senior author of the Harvard study, explains, “We can create 3D structures using minimally invasive delivery to enrich and activate a host’s immune cells to target and attack harmful cells in vivo.”

The process uses mesoporous silica rods (MSRs) that are loaded with both biological and chemical drugs. According to scientists, the rods assemble into a scaffold-like structure just beneath the skin’s surface and begin to recruit tens of millions of dendritic cells which trigger the body’s immune response.

The rods naturally disassemble and are absorbed into the body within a few months of the injection.

Because the surface of the rods are porous, they can be pre-loaded with a number of different drugs or biologics, including cytokines, oligonucleotides, protein antigens, or chemical compounds. The versatility suggests that the delivery method could be adapted to treat or prevent a number of conditions.

Aileen Li, co-lead author of the study, said that right now the researchers are focused on a cancer vaccine but acknowledged the potential of the research. She said, “By turning the surface properties and pore size of the MSRs, and therefore controlling the introduction and release of various proteins and drugs, we can manipulate the immune system to treat multiple diseases.”

Historically, cancers, as well as infections such as HIV and Ebola, have been so pervasive because of their ability to bypass the body’s immune system.

Donald Ingber, founding director of the Wyss Institute, remarked that this technology’s ability to trigger such a strong immune response might be the answer to that problem which has stymied research in the past.

So far, the research has only been tested in mice but has yielded promising results, and scientists maintained that the complex technology was relatively easy to manufacture and replicate, which could be valuable in the face of an epidemic.

Mooney confirmed, “We anticipate 3D vaccines could be broadly useful for many settings, and their injectable nature would also make them easy to administer both inside and outside a clinic.”