[ASC-media] Nova: Science in the news - update

Richard Bray richybray at hotmail.com
Fri Sep 26 06:12:42 CEST 2008

 Australian Academy of ScienceNova: Science in the news update
26 September 2008
Cancer immunotherapy – redefining vaccines 
As the leading cause of death in Australia, scientists are giving cancer a shot. But making a vaccine for many cancers is not an easy task. The Australian Academy of Science’s new Nova: Science in the news topic, ‘Cancer immunotherapy – redefining vaccines’, has the latest information at www.science.org.au/nova.
 Vaccines are taken for granted in developed countries; since mass immunisation was introduced in Australia in 1924, deaths from infectious diseases have now become a rare event. Unfortunately though, these traditional types of vaccines can only be developed to prevent diseases that are caused by bacteria or viruses.  Less than 20 per cent of cancers are caused by viruses. Fortunately, cancer cells often have substances on their surface that are not present on other body cells. These antigenic substances can be used in vaccines to stimulate our immune system to attack cancer cells. Broadly known as immunotherapy, this type of treatment is redefining our understanding of vaccines by targeting existing disease. Cancer immunotherapy can be divided into two categories: active immunotherapy and passive immunotherapy. Active immunotherapy stimulates the body's own immune response to cancer cells. However, it can be expensive, time consuming and become less effective with time. Passive immunotherapy uses parts of the immune system created outside the body to fight cancer. Monoclonal antibodies – the guided missiles of medicine – are produced in the laboratory to home in on and destroy cancer cells. They are created to target a specific antigen in or on cancer cells, and can be made more lethal by being loaded with toxins, chemotherapy drugs or radioactive material.  Vaccines are no longer a simple injection of inactive bacteria or viruses to prevent disease. Scientists are constantly finding new ways to train the immune system to target already diseased cells. Information on this topic is available on the Australian Academy of Science’s Nova: Science in the news website at www.science.org.au/nova. A glossary, student activities, further reading and annotated links to relevant websites are also available. This topic is sponsored by the Sir Mark Oliphant International Frontiers of Science and Technology Conference Series. The Australian Foundation for Science is also a supporter of Nova. 
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