The magazine Science hailed cancer immunotherapy as the breakthrough of the year two years ago, and the field has been gaining traction since. The idea is to activate the body’s own immune cells to recognize cancer cells as disease-causing, and to train them to attack the cancer. Effectively, instead of delivering toxic chemotherapeutics to the whole body, cancer immunotherapy would allow strategic targeting using the body’s immune cells only. It’s kind of like a vaccine, but for cancer. Many approaches are now in clinical trials to explore this avenue, and are showing much potential.
A new study from the Fiering Lab at Dartmouth’s School of Medicine used an empty cowpea mosaic virus as an adjuvant for stimulating the immune system. (That sore arm you get after a flu shot? That’s your immune system jumping into action.) These viruses lack their core DNA like many vaccines, so are non-infectious, but have surfaces that can be recognized by the immune system.