Researchers at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering have recently developed a three dimensional vaccine which could be incredibly useful in the fight to defeat cancer and infectious diseases. The vaccines would be useful in utilizing the body's immune system to fight the cancerous cells; many times, cancer cells are ignored by the immune system due to their similarities to noncancerous cells. Cancer vaccines have been created to help antibodies distinguish said cells. Previous vaccine attempts have included drawing blood from a patient and separating the white blood cells, and transforming said white blood cells into dendritic cells (these coordinate the behavior of the immune system), would incubate the cells with cancer proteins that had the unique tumorigenic signature of the patient involved, and reinjected the transformed dendritic cells back into the patient's bloodstream. This was done so that the dendritic cells could coordinate a better fight against the tumor. However, these attempts only provoked a short term immune response and would be too weak to fight the tumor (and were found to be difficult to regulate).
The new vaccines utilize a method in which the immune cells are manipulated with implantable biomaterial. A biodegradable scaffold is used, which is injected under the patient's skin and which holds dendritic cells that are being exposed to tumor proteins, which ultimately activates the immune system. The three dimensional scaffold (vaccine) erects rods into a haystack shape which then gathers, stores and influences cells in order to promote an immune response. The rods contain cancer proteins which are influencing dendritic and immune cells through nano-sized pores. The scaffold has been shown to delay tumor growth in mice (90% of animals that would typically die from cancer in 25 days had prolonged lives).