Researchers Are Working on a Pfizer-Like mRNA Vaccine For Skin Cancer

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Skin cancer is extremely common in Australia, with an estimated 11.2 per cent of all new cancer cases diagnosed in 2021 melanoma of the skin, making it the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the country. These statistics are incredibly scary, especially when an estimated 90 per cent of melanomas are preventable with proper sun protection.

There is new hope in the world of skin cancer research, with researchers at the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy (OSU) looking at ways they can use mRNA technology — which is used in the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines — in the treatment of melanoma.

Skin cancer is commonly caused by exposure to UV radiation from the sun, which can lead to oxidative stress in the skin, which in turn increases one’s risk of developing melanoma. But, according to the Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at OSU, Arup Indra, a messenger RNA vaccine, which helps with the production of the TR1 protein, could help reduce the risk of skin cancers from forming.

“Despite efforts to improve public awareness about the warning signs of melanoma and the dangers of excess exposure to UV radiation, the incidence of melanoma continues to rise,” Indra said.

“For more than 40 years researchers have looked at dietary antioxidants as a possible source of inexpensive, low-risk agents for cancer prevention but they have not always performed well in clinical trials and in some cases have actually been harmful — hence the need to try to intervene with new chemoprevention agents such as an mRNA vaccine.”

According to Science Daily, mRNA vaccines work by asking cells to make a particular protein. In the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, this protein is a piece of the spike protein from the virus, which then triggers an immune response in the body to fight said virus.

For a melanoma vaccine, it would trigger TR1, which is shown to play an important role in managing melanocytes — the nasties that are involved in the damaging of DNA that can lead to cancer. Introducing higher levels of TR1 into the body could help take care of any oxidative stress that occurs as a result of exposure to UV radiation.

“Following uptake of the mRNA into the cell and the cell’s machinery going to work, the cell should be at a high antioxidant level and able to take care of oxidative stress and DNA damage arising from ultraviolet radiation,” Indra said. “People at increased risk of skin cancer, such as those who work outside in sunny climates, could ideally be vaccinated once a year.”

While the idea behind this melanoma vaccine is incredibly exciting, there is still a lot of research that needs to be conducted before researchers can say whether it is effective enough to ward off skin cancers. The introduction of the mRNA technology in the COVID-19 vaccines has been revolutionary in many ways for the research world, given its effectiveness was still unproven prior to 2020.

“Everything needs to be tested and validated in preclinical models,” he said. “We need to generate an mRNA vaccine, have it delivered locally or systematically and then monitor how it boosts the body’s defences,” said Indra. “Clearly we’re at the tip of the iceberg but the possibilities are exciting for preventing different types of disease progression including cancer by modulating the bodies’ antioxidant system.”

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