Despite recent improvements in prevention, diagnosis and treatment, the incidence of melanoma – the most deadly skin cancer – has been rising over the past decade. According to World Cancer Research Fund International, there were nearly 300 000 new cases in 2018. Partially supported by three EU-funded projects, a team of scientists have developed a new way to treat and prevent melanoma using a nano-vaccine. The findings were published in the journal ‘Nature Nanotechnology’.

Quoted in a press release, lead author Prof. Ronit Satchi-Fainaro says: “The war against cancer in general, and melanoma in particular, has advanced over the years through a variety of treatment modalities, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy; but the vaccine approach, which has proven so effective against various viral diseases, has not materialized yet against cancer.” Prof. Satchi-Fainaro adds: “In our study, we have shown for the first time that it is possible to produce an effective nano-vaccine against melanoma and to sensitize the immune system to immunotherapies.”

Prevention and treatment

The researchers have demonstrated the effectiveness of the vaccine under three different conditions: as a preventive measure in healthy mice; treatment of a primary tumour in mice in conjunction with immunotherapy; and treatment of tissues taken from patients with melanoma brain metastases. As explained in the same press release, the team “harnessed tiny particles, about 170 nanometers in size, made of a biodegradable polymer.” Two peptides – short chains of amino acids – were packed within each particle, or nano-vaccine, which were then injected into a mouse model with melanoma. The nano-vaccine prevented melanoma, and also led to tumour inhibition and prolonged survival rate in mice affected by the disease.

Prof. Satchi-Fainaro adds: “Our research opens the door to a completely new approach – the vaccine approach – for effective treatment of melanoma, even in the most advanced stages of the disease.” The researchers hope that their method could be used for other cancer types, such as colorectal and pancreatic cancer.

PolyDorm, one of the three EU-funded projects that provided partial funding to the study, was launched to examine “the molecular and cellular changes in tumor-host interactions that govern tumor dormancy, which may lead to the discovery of novel tumor dormancy targets and provide tools for dormancy-dependent tumor therapy strategies,” as noted on CORDIS. The PolyDorm (Uncovering the molecular and cellular mechanism of tumor dormancy for the rational design of theranostic nanomedicines) project ended in March 2019. The ongoing 3DBrainStrom (Brain metastases: Deciphering tumor-stroma interactions in three dimensions for the rational design of nanomedicines) project, which supported the nano-vaccine study, focuses on new preclinical cancer models. These are aimed at developing therapeutic approaches that target various cellular compartments involved in brain metastases. The EURONANOMED II (EUROpean network for transnational collaborative RTD projects in the field of NANOMEDicine) initiative also contributed to the same study. Building on an earlier project, ENM I, the EURONANOMED II project used ERA-NET as a platform for funding agencies and ministries in developing joint activities and programmes to coordinate high-quality nanomedicine research. The EURONANOMED is currently in its third phase under the project EuroNanoMed III (ERA-NET ON NANOMEDICINE). 

For more information, please see: 
PolyDorm project
3DBrainStrom project
EURONANOMED II project