Cancer Preventing Vaccines: Unleashing the Potential of Tumor Antigens

It has been more than 100 years since Dr. William B. Coley, known today as the “Father of Immunotherapy,” made the first recorded attempt to mobilize the immune system as a means of treating cancer (9). Decades later, the discovery of T cells and the vital role they play in the immune system set the groundwork for many new immunotherapy treatments, such as those involving monoclonal antibodies, cytokines, CAR T cells, and checkpoint inhibitors.

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mRNA Vaccines for COVID-19: The Promise and Pitfalls

Updated 8/25/2021, 4/29/2024

Multiple battles are being fought in the war against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Currently, there are nearly 5,000 clinical trials listed in the World Health Organization (WHO) database, either underway or in the recruiting stage, for vaccines and antiviral drugs. The Moderna mRNA vaccine and Janssen vaccine received emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and have since been fully approved; the Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine (marketed as Comiraty) received FDA approval in August 2021.

mrna vaccines and coronavirus covid-19

Both the Moderna vaccine and Comiraty are mRNA-based, as opposed to most conventional vaccines against established diseases that are protein-based. Typically, the key ingredient in viral vaccines is either part of an inactivated virus, or one or more expressed proteins (antigens) that are a part of the virus. These protein antigens are responsible for eliciting an immune response that will fight future infection by the actual virus. Another approach is to use a replication-deficient viral vector (such as adenovirus) to deliver the gene encoding the antigen into human cells. This method was used for the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University in collaboration with AstraZeneca; phase 3 interim data were announced on the heels of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna announcements. All three vaccines target the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, because it is the key that unlocks a path of entry into the host cell.

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The Making of a Vaccine: Preparation for Flu Season

At the time that I’m writing this, I still haven’t succumbed to the “yuck” that’s been knocking out my co-workers one-by-one since November. Those of us who are still healthy were discussing how we fortify our immune systems in preparation for the flu season. All of the suggestions were pretty typical—orange juice, Vitamin C supplements, and of course, the the annual flu shot.

For all of the agencies responsible for the production of the seasonal influenza vaccine, preparation for flu season begins long before the rest of us are stocking up on Emergen-C. Continue reading “The Making of a Vaccine: Preparation for Flu Season”

Could This be the Next Generation Ebola Virus Vaccine?

Ebola virus has received a lot of press in the last year due to the extended epidemic outbreak in Africa. Ebola is part of the family of Filioviruses (filamentous virus) and causes hemorrhagic fever that leads to internal bleeding and loss of bodily fluids. As the epidemic in Africa has illustrated so starkly, once the virus infects a large enough population, the human suffering it causes is devastating to individuals and communities. Because no treatment other than palliative fluid support is available to those infected by Ebola virus, virologists have focused attention on potential therapeutics and vaccines. The vaccine strategies now in clinical trials are based on a single Ebola virus glycoprotein, GP, and involve a DNA-based vaccine or innoculation with an Ebola protein expressed from a viral vector. How effective and safe this approach may be for protection from Ebola virus infection is currently under investigation.

Based on the history of effective vaccines, Marzi et al. was interested in testing a whole-virus vaccine for Ebola (EBOV). A whole-virus-based vaccine like smallpox or measles uses an attenuated or inactivated virus. The advantage of this method is that all the proteins as well as the nucleic acid are available for immunological reaction, offering broader-based protection than a single protein. In the recently published Science report from Marzi et al., a replication-incompetent Ebola virus was used as the basis for a whole-virus vaccine that was tested for its efficacy in nonhuman primates.

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What’s in the H1N1 Vaccine Anyway?

I’m a microbiologist. I wash my hands often, I don’t eat canned green beans or any home-canned food (due to a horrible botulism example given in a bacteriology class), I don’t ask for antibiotics if I just have a cold, and I believe in vaccination programs.

Recently, due to the various controversies surrounding the H1N1 vaccine, and because I just gave permission for my children to be vaccinated at school, I have been thinking about vaccination rather a lot. Even though I believe absolutely in the benefits of vaccination, I also have the usual concerns when considering whether to accept a new vaccine for my children. So, when I read or hear sensational press coverage over emphasizing vaccination risks, I worry, and I want to hear a balanced viewpoint.

So I thought I would share what I have learned about the H1N1 vaccine.

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