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In a world first, scientists have successfully eliminated tumors in mammals using a cancer vaccine carried into the body on a fingernail-sized implant. The new approach uses plastic disks impregnated with tumor-specific antigens and implanted under the skin to reprogram the mammalian immune system to attack tumors.
Most cancer cells easily skirt the immune system, which operates by recognizing and attacking invaders from outside the body. The approach developed by bioengineers and immunologists at Harvard University redirects the immune system to target tumors, and appears both more effective and less cumbersome than other cancer vaccines currently in clinical trials.
Conventional cancer vaccinations remove immune cells from the body, reprogram them to attack malignant tissues, and return them to the body. However, more than 90 percent of reinjected cells die before having any effect in experiments.
The slender implants developed by the group measure 8.5 millimeters in diameter and are made of an FDA-approved biodegradable polymer. Ninety percent air, the disks are highly permeable to immune cells and release cytokines, powerful recruiters of immune-system messengers called dendritic cells.