Monthly Dose

Monthly Dose > Volume 23 | November 2022


Could mRNA vaccines provide a future treatment for pancreatic cancer?

Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines were widely used in the fight against COVID-19. But for years, researchers have been looking into using mRNA vaccines to treat a range of other diseases, including cystic fibrosis, influenza, Zika, rabies, and more. One study with promising results uses mRNA vaccines to help in the fight against pancreatic cancer.

Developing an effective cancer vaccine has been challenging due to cancer’s ability to evade the body’s immune system. Since the body does not trigger an immune response, how can scientists know what to replicate? Research from a study of long-term pancreatic cancer survivors is helping to shine a light. It was discovered that the pancreatic cancer survivors had a large number of T cells in their removed tumors, meaning something was triggering that response.

After studying these survivors further, researchers found proteins in their tumors called neoantigens. These neoantigens triggered an immune response, and the body sent T cells to the tumors to combat the cancerous cells. In some cases, the T cells circulated in the body of these cancer survivors for up to 12 years. This response may have been what helped these pancreatic cancer patients survive.

These findings helped spark the idea to develop a pancreatic cancer mRNA vaccine. In a recent clinical study, patients with pancreatic cancer had their tumors removed and genetically sequenced to identify the specific neoantigen present in the cancerous cells. Then each patient received their own custom mRNA vaccine. The vaccine is meant to help the body trigger an immune response against the specific neoantigens found in their tumors. As reported by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, “in 8 of 16 patients studied, the vaccines activated T cells that recognize the patient’s own pancreatic cancers. These patients also showed delayed recurrence of their pancreatic cancers.”

The study results are promising, suggesting that pancreatic and other types of cancer may be treatable with vaccines in the future.

If you or a loved one is living with pancreatic cancer, join the Inspire Pancreatic Cancer Connections Community, developed in partnership with the Lustgarten Foundation and Let’s Win! Pancreatic Cancer.

“Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.”

– Roy T. Bennett