|Holding the Keys to Cancer
CHORI Lab Developing Novel Cancer Vaccine
CHORI scientists patent new technologies every year that represent potential break-throughs in diagnosis, treatment and cure for many different conditions or diseases. Our Highlight focuses on just one of many promising developments CHORI scientists continue to discover in their ground-breaking bench-to-bedside research.
This month’s highlight features CHORI scientist, Gregory R. Moe, PhD, of the CHORI Centers for Cancer and for Immunobiology & Vaccine Development, whose lab has been pioneering research on a little known and very unique sugar molecule found in cancer cells and other pathogens that could just hold the key to the development of a broadly applicable cancer vaccine, as well as other therapies for cancer.
Dr. Moe and his colleagues discovered the sugar molecule, called de-N-acetyl sialic acid or neuraminic acid (Neu), accidentally, while working on vaccine development for the bacterial pathogen, Neisseria meningitidis group B.
"Neu is a form of sialic acid, or sugar, that is basically makes itself invisible to all the different ways that we typically have for looking at sialic acids," Dr. Moe explains. "The way we found it was one of those things where you start out in one direction and following the data leads to somewhere else that you couldn't have imagined when you started."
Where the Moe lab has wound up is with the characterization of a very special little sugar molecule with a number of different traits that set it apart. Unlike Neu, most forms of sialic acid are found in human cells, and are in fact critical to healthy function.
"Sialic acid is one of the most important carbohydrates in the human body because it is involved in so many different processes critical to cell development," says Dr. Moe. "What makes Neu so interesting is that normal human cells appear not to make it."
This absence of Neu in human cells minimizes the risk that anti-Neu antibodies (antibodies developed to attack Neu) could inadvertently bind with human cells, causing an autoimmune reaction in which healthy human cells are attacked instead. In addition to this key factor, where Neu is found - and in great quantity - is in the cells of a variety of different cancers.
"In every case where we've looked at the normal cells and the corresponding tumor cells, we can't detect any Neu expression in the normal cells," explains Dr. Moe. "For example, some melanoma tumors express a ton of Neu but we do not detect any in normal melanocytes. There really is a significant difference between normal cells and cancer cells, which suggests this may be a very specific way of targeting tumor cells."Not only is Neu a distinctive feature of cancer cells, Neu also has a unique structure that makes it ideally suited for vaccine development.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:19 AM