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Indian researchers’ new compound can pave the way for a cancer vaccine

This compound can latch onto a protein in blood and travel to lymph nodes, where it can produce antibodies

Indian researchers’ new compound can pave the way for a cancer vaccine
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

A compound that can boost the production of antibodies against cancer cells has been synthesized by researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru. 

This compound can latch onto a protein in blood and travel to lymph nodes, where it can produce antibodies, giving new direction to develop vaccines for a variety of cancers, the researchers say in the study published in Advanced Healthcare Materials.

Traditionally, scientists have delivered similar antigens using bulky artificial proteins or virus particles as carriers, according to the report. These carriers can cause side effects and even hinder the body’s ability to produce antibodies against cancer cells. 

To address these limitations, the IISc team turned to a more natural solution: serum albumin, the most common protein found in blood plasma.

For their design, N Jayaraman, a co-author of the study, and his PhD student, Keerthana TV, focused on a molecule called Tn, or truncated carbohydrate, which is naturally found on many cancer cells, and was synthesized in the lab. 

To help it bind to albumin, a common blood protein, they attached a long, oil-loving chain, creating bubble-like structures called micelles.

Injected into mice, the carbohydrate-based compound gathered in lymph nodes and activated the killer T cells and antibody production. 

Jayaraman told Press Insider that before going for animal testing, the researchers had to go through a rigorous process.

“We need to establish many toxicity characteristics, life of the molecule, what will happen to it at the end, we have to have all this data before we go to the animal ethics committee and assure them that we can safely go for animal experimenting,” he said.

Mice immunized with the compound, even at low doses, showed a stronger antibody response compared to those receiving a similar antigen delivered with a different carrier. 

“Carbohydrate-based antigens have enormous importance and relevance in cancer vaccine development,” explains Jayaraman. 

“One major reason is that both normal and abnormal [cancer] cells have large amounts of carbohydrates coating their surfaces. But the abnormal cells carry carbohydrates that are very heavily truncated,” he said.

These findings encourage the researchers to pursue this compound for vaccine development and clinical trials. Furthermore, they believe this method could be adaptable for various other vaccines.

“The Tn antigen is present on almost all cancer cells, including breast cancer and prostate cancer cells,” says Keerthana, Jayaraman’s PhD student, who conducted the experiment. “By changing the type of antigen, we can target multiple cancers.”

Members of the scientific community have also written to both the researchers, congratulating them on their findings.

“When it comes to the vaccine development, per se, this is the first time this concept has been introduced. We are seeing a very positive response from people so far. We anticipate that there will be many more queries down the line, from people who matter,” said Jayaraman.

When asked about how it felt to finally have her ‘eureka’ moment, after rounds of rigorous experimentation, Kirthana shared in jest that she did not have any feelings at that moment.

“In scientific research like this, it’s very easy to get demotivated, particularly for Keerthana, because the peer review queries are so intense. So it will take time for her to realise that this is going to be a turning point for cancer vaccines, and that people are going to notice it in a very big way.” added Jayaraman.

The next step for the researchers, according to them, is to go to clinicians that possess specimens of cancer cells accumulated over the past two or three decades.

“Our next target is to go to cancer hospitals and cancer biologists and seek their attention to take this forward, then it will become heavily cross-disciplinary,” said Jayaraman.


Shireen Khan is a Senior Correspondent at Press Insider. She covers lifestyle, culture, and health. More

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