Brigham Scientists Developing a Brain Cancer Vaccine

Using a CRISPR gene editing tool, Khalid Shah, MS, PhD, and his team engineered living tumor cells to become easy for the immune system to identify and remember, priming the immune system for a long-term anti-tumor response. (Graphic courtesy of Shah)

Scientists are harnessing a new way to turn cancer cells against themselves. Khalid Shah, MS, PhD, director of the Center for Stem Cell and Translational Immunotherapy and vice chair of research in the Department of Neurosurgery, and his colleagues have developed and tested a new cell therapy approach to eliminate established tumors and induce long-term immunity, which will train the immune system to prevent cancer from recurring. 

The approach taken by Shah’s lab is distinct. Instead of using inactivated tumor cells, the team repurposes living tumor cells, which possess an unusual feature: Like homing pigeons returning to roost, living tumor cells will travel long distances across the brain to return to the site of their fellow tumor cells. 

“Our team has pursued a simple idea: to take cancer cells and transform them into cancer killers and vaccines,” says Shah. “Using gene engineering, we are repurposing cancer cells to develop a therapeutic that kills tumor cells and stimulates the immune system to destroy primary tumors and prevent cancer.”