You might have seen this news come across your dashboard, Twitter feed or Facebook wall (via The Telegraph):

“Universal Cancer Vaccine Developed”

Well, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it’s not true, despite tens of thousands of shares on social networks. I’m not a buzzkill, I promise. I’m just a science guy with a frustrating attachment to reality. So what’s behind the story?

What is true:

  • Israeli scientists are trying to create a vaccine against a molecule that’s expressed on the outside of 90% of known cancer cell types.
  • The molecule, called MUC1, is a sugar-protein that helps cells form outer structure, and the version of MUC1 on cancer cells is different from normal cells.
  • A vaccine that let the body learn to attack only the bad MUC1 could turn the immune system against cancers before they got out of control while not harming healthy cells.

Here’s what is exaggerated:

  • While many cancers express this mutant MUC1, even a single tumor can have huge, complex diversity in its genes. That usually means that therapies that attack only one cancerous change or mutation will leave behind some small population of unaffected, dangerous cells.
  • Vaccines, even against viruses, rarely show 100% effectiveness. It’s really important to remember that cancers continue to evolve as a tumor grows. And even one cell that doesn’t get killed by this method could grow into a tumor all on its own.
  • This is not the first drug therapy that has tried to exploit MUC1 as a target. The clinical trial here is of 10 patients, and only one cancer type. There are 30 other trials of other MUC1 therapies going on, some that are closer to finishing.
  • If something like this was really a “Universal Cancer Vaccine”, wouldn’t it go into Science or Nature or The Lancet instead of The Telegraph?

That being said, it’s a good example of trying to find a way that cancer cells differ from normal cells and using the body’s own machinery to kill the tumor before it even gets big enough to be detected by doctors. It’s also an example of science news hype pulled straight from a press release (something called “churnalism”).

But cancer is not a universal disease, and likewise no cancer treatment will ever be universal.

Another incredible piece of imaging - shows a T-cell attacking a cancer cell-but this one has an interesting background story.

It relates to the use of cancer vaccines which act to boost the body’s immune system in order to combat cancer which is already present in the body as opposed to protecting against the development of cancer altogether.

ImMucin, a product produced by Vaxil, activates the immune system by training T-cells to search out and destroy cells that display a specific marker not found on healthy cells. 

T-cells won’t attack cells that don’t display the cancer marker, meaning there are no side effects. More than 90% of different cancers have the MUC1 marker which indicates the vaccines potential in terms of safer, more effective and targeted treatment.

Had the awesome experience working in the studio with the most magical person @hellomynameisbrady this summer semester! Hope to even make more magic with the rest of the two weeks! #cello #muc1 #brady #magic #fun #summer (Norco College에서)

Multivalent #aptamer/Gold Nanoparticle–Modified Graphene Oxide for Mass Spectrometry–Based Tumor Tissue Imaging

The protein mucin1 (MUC1) is an attractive target for #cancer biomarkers because it is overexpressed in most adenocarcinomas. In this study, we exploited a MUC1-binding #aptamer (AptMUC1) as a targeting agent for nanoparticle-based imaging systems coupled with laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry (LDI-MS). We found that AptMUC1-conjugated gold nanoparticles immobilized, through hydrophobic and π–π interactions, on graphene oxide (AptMUC1–Au NPs/GO) bound effectively to MUC1 units on tumor cell membranes. The ultrahigh density and high flexibility of AptMUC1 on the GO surface enhanced the platform’s cooperative and multivalent binding affinity for MUC1 on cell membranes. After we had labeled MUC1-overexpressing MCF-7 cells (human breast adenocarcinoma cell line) with AptMUC1–Au NPs/GO, we used LDI-MS to monitor Au cluster ions ([Aun]+; n = 1–3), resulting in the detection of as few as 100 MCF-7 cells. We also employed this AptMUC1–Au NPs/GO–LDI-MS system to analyze four different MUC1 expression cell lines. In addition, the AptMUC1–Au NPs/GO platform could be used further as a labeling agent for tumor tissue imaging when coupled with LDI-MS. Thus, Apt–Au NPs/GO can function as a highly amplified signal transducer through the formation of large Au clusters ions during LDI-MS analysis. #nature #reports