Hope & Healing: The UF Health Blog

University of Florida Researchers Complete a Preclinical Study Using Tumor Derived RNA Nanoparticle Vaccines for Head and Neck Cancer

Researchers at the University of Florida College of Medicine Department of Otolaryngology examined the anti-tumor activity of tumor-derived RNA nanoparticles in an oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma murine model. The research was conducted in collaboration with Elias Sayour, M.D, Ph.D., in the UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program. The results were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in November 2018.

According to Natalie Silver, M.D., M.S., an assistant professor in the division of head and neck oncologic surgery in the Department of Otolaryngology at the university and one of the investigators for this project, UF is one of the few institutions in the world that has developed clinically translatable nanoparticles that can be loaded with RNAs encoding for tumor neoantigens. This is the first step in generating personalized cancer vaccines.

In combination with immunotherapy, personalized cancer vaccines may help activate the immune system to overcome resistance to checkpoint inhibitors, the standard of care for patients with platinum refractory recurrent/metastatic head and neck cancer. “Nearly 85 percent of patients with recurrent disease become resistant to checkpoint inhibitors,” says Silver. “Reprogramming the immune system with personalized RNA nanoparticle vaccines may offer a solution.”

Silver and her colleagues administered mice weekly tumor-derived RNA nanoparticle vaccines derived from a murine oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma line. Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes and immune cell populations in the spleen were analyzed with flow cytometry. Mice receiving the tumor-derived RNA nanoparticle vaccine had significantly decreased tumor growth compared with mice receiving nanoparticles alone. In addition, treatment with tumor-derived RNA nanoparticle vaccines significantly reduced regulatory T cells and significantly increased cytotoxic and memory T cells in spleen and tumor tissues.

Silver says, “Our findings have potential clinical and translational implications. We may be able to use this technology in humans to activate and manipulate the immune system, against head and neck cancer. Through RNA engineering we are able to further personalize vaccine formulations.”

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