A treatment that kills tumors and makes you immune to the dreaded disease for the rest of your life. It sounds like fiction, but it isn’t according to a new study

An illustration of the synthetic high-density lipoprotein (sHDL) nanodiscs that are engineered for co-delivery of antigen (Ag) peptides and adjuvants to tumor cells. Courtesy: J Moon

This treatment could become available in the near future thanks to new research by scientists at the University of Michigan in the United States.

The researchers developed microscopic high-density lipoprotein (HDL) nanodiscs to deliver packages of a customized therapeutic vaccine to tumor cells. The discs are loaded with tumor neoantigens, which bind to unique mutations found in tumor cells.

Then, by generating T-cells that recognize these specific neoantigens, the technology targets cancer mutations and fights to eliminate cancer cells and prevent tumor growth.

The method essentially teaches the T-cells of the body’s immune system to kill tumors and learn to recognize new cancer cells in the future.

It could signify a breakthrough in cancer treatment since it does not only does help to remove existent tumors but also enables the body to develop immunity to cancer.

“The idea is that these vaccine nanodiscs will trigger the immune system to fight the existing cancer cells in a personalized manner,” said James Moon, the John Gideon Searle assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences and biomedical engineering.

The novel method was tested on mice by which it successfully eliminated tumors resulting from colon cancer and malignant melanoma in just ten days. The team then waited 70 days and injected the same mice with the same tumor cells again, the tumors were then rejected by the immune system and did not grow.

That is, once the cancer cells were removed, the immune system recognized and began fighting new cancer cells. The mice had effectively developed immunity to cancer.

“This suggests the immune system ‘remembered’ the cancer cells for long-term immunity,” said Rui Kuai, U-M doctoral student in pharmaceutical sciences and lead author of the study.

The next step is to test the method on a larger group of animals. While there are opportunities for developing a future treatment on people, much research remains.

“The holy grail in cancer immunotherapy is to eradicate tumors and prevent recurrence without toxins. Our study shows promising results,” said Moon.

The study has been published in Nature Materials and the team of researchers has created a new start-up ‘EVOQ Therapeutics’ to translate their results to the clinic.


Rui Kuai, Lukasz J. Ochyl, Keith S. Bahjat, Anna Schwendeman & James J. Moon Designer vaccine nanodiscs for personalized cancer immunotherapy doi:10.1038/nmat4822