Cancers remain among the most deadly diseases around the world. In many cases, conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiotherapy are all that’s needed in order to banish the disease for good – but this is a certainty that most patients lack when they are first diagnosed.
On a daily basis, researchers are developing new treatments for recurrent or multi-drug resistant treatments, such as immunotherapy and oncolytic vaccines. Cancer tissue banks play a fundamental role in allowing these treatments to reach their full potential.
What are Cancer Tissue Banks?
A cancer tissue bank specializes in collecting and preserving samples from different types of malignant (cancerous) tumors. These samples are usually collected from patients during the initial tumor-removal surgery. Usually, after a tumor is removed, it is sent to a pathology lab in order to determine the exact type of cancer. However, after this process, it is usually discarded.
Cancer tissue banks collect and preserve these tissues in liquid nitrogen. This allows them to have available RNA and DNA samples of the specific primary tumor affecting a patient. This can then be used to further general research or to develop new customised immunotherapy treatments.
What is Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is one of the most promising experimental approaches for controlling or even eliminating resistant cancer cells. It opens new doors to prevent these cancer cells from reappearing and prevents the progression of the disease.
Immunotherapy retrains the patient’s own immune system to recognize malignant cancer cells as foreign invaders, attacking them and destroying them. In this way, it turns the immune response into a highly-specific weapon against metastasized cancer cells, which are often leftover in microscopic reservoirs all around the body.
Why Did We Open a Cancer Tissue Bank?
At Biotherapy International, we are constantly researching new techniques to develop effective, customized immunotherapy regimes for patients with recurrent tumors. Our Cancer Tissue Bank allows us to have a database of “blueprints” that can then be used to create personalized anti-cancer vaccines. These vaccines will, in turn, help the patient’s own immune system fight against existing tumors, destroying them to the last cells but without harming healthy tissue.
How do Anti-Cancer Vaccines Work?
Anti-cancer vaccines are a new, customized form to treat metastatic or resilient cancers. Just like traditional vaccines help “train” the immune system to recognize an external pathogen, anti-cancer vaccines help the immune system fight malignant or cancerous cells.
There are two types of anti-cancer vaccines. The first type is created from the patient’s own cancerous tissue, either fresh or cryopreserved. The “cold”, non-immunogenic tumor cells from the sample are then “decorated” with attenuated, harmless poultry viruses or with Coley’s toxin. This will turn the tumor cells into “hot” immunogenic tumor tissue, which the immune system will recognize as foreign. This will allow the patient’s systemic immune response to attack cancer cells all around the body, leaving nearby healthy cells alone.
The second type of anti-cancer vaccines uses a special kind of genetically-modified viruses known as oncolytic viruses. These viruses are then injected directly on a metastatic lesion. The virus will reproduce within the tumor, killing that tumor and triggering a similar immune response. This will, in turn, activate systemic immunity and have therapeutic effects on metastases located on the rest of the body.
Why Should a Patient Store a Tumor in Our Cancer Tissue Bank?
Immunotherapy-based treatments are possible with either of the two anti-cancer vaccine methods listed above. However, patients who have preserved tumor samples in our cancer tissue bank will be able to use the first, simpler method, or a combination of both.
By treating metastasized cancer with both types of vaccination, we can amplify the patient’s immune response and activate the in vivo dendritic cells using GM-CSF. This will allow us to target the cells that are inhibiting the patient’s immune response (which is in charge of (regulatory T cell; checkpoint inhibitors and myeloid-derived suppressor cells) while activating their anti-cancer response (controlled by T cells and natural killer cells).
Who Are the Best Candidates for Tumor Storing?
Ideally, tumor tissue should be extracted while fresh, during a patient’s initial biopsy or tumor removal surgery. This tissue should then be frozen immediately using liquid nitrogen, in order to preserve its DNA and RNA “identity.”
In general, immunotherapy works best on patients who have already undergone conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, and who have had secondary tumors reappear following that. It is best for patients to try to shrink their original tumor as much as possible before starting immunotherapy or treatment with anti-cancer vaccines
How Can Cancer Tumor Banks Help Patients in the Future?
Having cryopreserved cancer tissue after the initial treatment course will make it significantly easier to then pursue immunotherapy strategies if they become necessary. The need for such advanced treatment may be hard to predict during the initial diagnosis process, so the option should always be pre-emptively considered from the start.
At Biotherapy International’s Cancer Tumor Bank, we can preserve cancer tissue and keep it ready to prepare future anti-cancer vaccines, should they become necessary to treat the existing lesion or prevent its recurrence.