[Hong Y, Peng Y, Guo ZS, Guevara-Patino J, Pang J, Butterfield LH, Mivechi NF, Munn DH, Bartlett DL, He Y. Epitope-optimized alpha-fetoprotein genetic vaccines prevent carcinogen-induced murine autochthonous hepatocellular carcinoma. Hepatology. 2014 Apr;59(4):1448-58.]
Researchers at the GRU Cancer Center have identified a potential breakthrough in targeting liver cancer relapse, and potentially prevention. AFP, a protein present primarily in human liver cells during development and cancer, but not in healthy adults, is an immunological target in treating liver cancer. However, prior immunotherapy attempts based on wild-type AFP have been largely unsuccessful due to immune tolerance to the native form of self/tumor antigen. As described in a recent publication in Hepatology, Yukai He, MD, PhD, and his laboratory, in collaboration with colleagues Nahid Mivechi, PhD, and David Munn, MD, used an innovative algorithmic approach of antigen engineering to generate epitope-optimized AFP in a novel liver cancer immunization strategy. Immunization based on epitope-optimized (versus wild-type) AFP was found to not only break immune tolerance, but also enhance AFP-specific immune responses to achieve a potent antitumor effect in mice. These results suggest that epitope-optimized AFP-based vaccines have the potential of becoming an exciting new treatment – and possibly prevention – strategy for human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common form of human liver cancer, for which incidence is increasing and outcomes are currently dim.