Building Immunity Against Cancer

By Koren Wetmore |

If immunologist Olivera Finn’s hunch is right, you may one day trade your colonoscopy for a shot that prevents colon cancer. Even more exciting, the vaccine her team is working on might be able to protect you from other cancers, including those of the pancreas, breast and lung.

The vaccine targets MUC1, a growth-related protein found in normal cells that behaves and looks differently in cancer cells. Like vaccines that teach our bodies to recognize and destroy viruses and bacteria, Finn’s MUC1 formula trains the immune system to “see” and then kill tumor cells.

“We get cancer for the same reason we come down with other diseases, meaning there was a weakness in some part of the immune system,” says Finn, distinguished professor of immunology at the University of Pittsburgh. “With vaccines that treat cancer, you try to supplement what the patient couldn’t make enough of. With a prevention vaccine, we’re trying to ensure that everyone has enough of the needed immune cells and antibodies to begin with.”

Finn is one of a growing number of researchers shifting from using the immune system to fight cancer to priming the system to prevent cancer in the first place…

Published in Cancer PreventionWorks