AN VACCINE implant which will treat the deadliest form of skin cancer is to be tested in humans for the first time.
The vaccine is delivered on a small, disk-like sponge about the size of a fingernail which is placed under the skin in sufferers with malignant melanoma.
It is then able to “recruit and reprogramme” a patient’s own immune cells, instructing them to travel through the body, home in on cancer cells and kill them.
Health campaigners welcomed the study, but said larger trials would be needed before the treatment could be used more widely in patients.
Around 1,200 people a year in Scotland are diagnosed with malignant melanoma, with cases up more than 50 per cent in a decade.
Recent figures revealed that eight out of ten men and almost nine out of ten women in Scotland diagnosed with the disease will now survive.
But the search for new treatments continues to help those where existing drugs fails to beat the cancer.
The latest research involved a team of scientists, engineers and doctors working together to create the vaccine and the method of targeting it at cancer cells.
Doctors have begun recruiting patients for the first phase of clinical trials.
They said the goal of the study, which is expected to end in 2015, was to assess the safety of the vaccine in humans.
Don Ingber, founding director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University in Boston, named after philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss, said: “This is expected to be the first of many new innovative therapies made possible by the Wyss Institute’s collaborative model of translational research that will enter human clinical trials.
“It validates our approach, which strives to move technologies into the clinical space much faster than would be possible in a traditional academic environment. It’s enormously gratifying to see one of our first technologies take this giant leap forward.”
Most therapeutic cancer vaccines – those used to treat the disease rather than prevent it – require doctors to first remove the patient’s immune cells, reprogramme them and then put them back into the body.
The new approach, developed by researchers at the Wyss Institute, targets the cancer cells from within the body.
Dr Emma Smith, Cancer Research UK’s senior science communications officer, said: “This is an early stage clinical trial to find out if a skin cancer vaccine is safe for patients, but larger trials will need to be run.
“Harnessing our body’s own immune system to attack cancer is showing real potential and these types of novel approaches could expand our arsenal against cancer.”