Parasites to help fight cancer

Posted by Kasra

Research on parasites is important, even if most of them are not direct health concerns to the developed world! Millions of years of coevolution of parasites along with their hosts have made them masters in manipulation of the immune system and in coexistence with it. Many parasitic infections such as those with Toxoplasma, Trypanosoma and some Leishmania sp. elicit innate and adaptive immune responses that can result in life-long immunity to reinfection. However, the parasite might be carried chronically for life, keeping the antibody titers up.

The research team of Ricardo Gazzinelli have taken advantage of the stealth yet stimulatory property of parasites to target cancer. For their purpose, they expressed a cancer antigen in a strongly attenuated strain of Trypanosoma cruzi, the causative agent of Chagas disease in the Americas. This live vaccine showed great protection against melanoma in both prophylactic and therapeutic models.

T. cruzi was chosen as the vector for many reasons: it intrinsically possesses TLR ligands and thus induces a strong proinflammatory response; like many other parasites, it has ways of staying inside the body for a very long time; and it propagates inside the cytoplasm, therefore it can induce a Th1 type immune response and activation of cytotoxic CD8+ T cells, which are very important against cancer. It is interesting to me that although they did not observe any disease or parasitemia, such strong immune response and protection was observed. I think it is important to see if and how many residual parasites are sticking around and where and how long do they stay in the body. This might also teach us more about how this model actually works.

The study shows that if vaccinated before tumor induction, mice are completely protected from cancer. It is also shown that this antigen-carrying vector can delay tumor growth and lethality if given after. One might ask: what advantages does this vector provide over vaccination with traditional recombinant protein, or other vectors such as attenuated viruses? The authors compared the protection and immune response resulted from recombinant T. cruzi to the canonical recombinant antigen (NY-ESO1) with Alum or CpG adjuvants. Recombinant T. cruzi showed better protection and stronger immune response compared to canonical vaccination strategies. Doing a quick search through pubmed, I didn’t find other strategies such live or viral vectors rather than variations of recombinant protein being used so far. I might be wrong, but still this is a novel idea and this recombinant parasite deserves a chance of being further studied, especially for prophylactic uses. There are plenty of other cancer or maybe even infectious antigens that can be targeted by this method. But of course, there are plenty of biohazard issues that also need to be addressed with injecting an attenuated form a dangerous pathogenic parasite.

Here is the link to the article abstract on Pubmed.

Junqueira C, Santos LI, Galvão-Filho B, Teixeira SM, Rodrigues FG, Darocha WD, Chiari E, Jungbluth AA, Ritter G, Gnjatic S, Old LJ, & Gazzinelli RT (2011). Trypanosoma cruzi as an effective cancer antigen delivery vector. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108 (49), 19695-700 PMID: 22114198

ResearchBlogging.org

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