Flu shot can help fight cancer

Scientists find that the flu shot can do more than just protect you against the flu.

flu shot

The common flu shot could do more than just protect you from the flu, say researchers and scientists from Rush University Medical Center in the United States.

Changing the microenvironment in which tumours grow can kickstart your immune system’s response to fight them.

Most cancer patients have tumours that are ‘cold’. Cold tumours are those that don’t contain many immune cells or have cells that oppress the immune system’s ability to fight them.

Changing tumours from cold to hot makes them more recognisable by your immune system and easier to fight, increasing your chance of survival as a result.

Finding a stable way to effect this change in environment has long been a goal in medical research.

A new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed that injecting tumours with influenza vaccines and seasonal flu shots, can turn cold tumours to hot, which could lead to an immunotherapy to treat cancer.

Usually, immunotherapies consist of live pathogens (disease-causing organisms), but they work only on a limited number of patients and cancer types.

“We wanted to understand how our strong immune responses against pathogens like influenza and their components could improve our much weaker immune response against some tumours,” said senior study author Assistant Professor Andrew Zloza.

The study started when scientists noticed how people with lung cancer who also had influenza actually lived longer than lung cancer patients with no influenza.

They found similar results in mice with tumours and influenza infection in the lung.

“However, there are many factors we do not understand about live infections, and this effect does not repeat in tumours where influenza infections do not naturally occur, like skin,” said Ass. Prof. Zloza.

So, researchers inactivated the influenza virus, essentially creating a flu vaccine, which they injected directly into a melanoma. The injection made the tumour hot, leading to an increase in the cells that recognise and kill tumour cells, which led to reduced growth of the injected tumour. It also led to reduced growth of a second tumour that had not been injected on the other side of the mouse.

Similar results have been achieved in a mouse model of metastatic triple-negative breast cancer, where both primary tumour growth and the natural spread of the breast tumour to the lungs were reduced after injection only into the primary tumour.

“Based on this result, we hope that in patients, injecting one tumour with an influenza vaccine will lead to immune responses in their other tumours as well,” said Ass. Prof. Zloza.

“Our successes with a flu vaccine that we created made us wonder if seasonal flu vaccines that are already FDA-approved could be repurposed as treatments for cancer. Since these have been used in millions of people and have already been shown to be safe, we thought using flu shots to treat cancer could be brought to patients quickly.”

To determine if similar results could be obtained with tumours from patients, researchers developed a mouse model in which they implanted a piece of tumour and immune cells from a patient with cancer into a mouse that does not have a functioning immune system of its own.

“Such transplant allows us to utilise patient-grade drugs in a living system. This is as close as we can get to testing something ahead of a clinical trial,” said Ass. Prof. Zloza.

The flu shot into these patient-derived tumours also caused them to shrink, while untreated tumours continued to grow.

Researchers have also combined this treatment with immunotherapy and found even greater reductions in tumour growth.

“These results propose that eventually both patients who respond and who do not respond to other immunotherapies might benefit from the injection of influenza vaccines into the tumour, and it may increase the small proportion of patients that are now long-term responders to immunotherapies,” said Ass. Prof. Zloza.

“Since humans and mice are about 95 per cent genetically identical, the hope is that this approach will work in patients. The next step planned is to conduct clinical trials to test various factors.”

Do you already get a flu shot each year? Will this research add extra incentive to keep this up?

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    13th Jan 2020
    This article is very misleading. The article does not say the flu shots prevents cancer but that it could be repurposed to treat cancer - in other words they may develop a vaccine that could do this. It does not work like that at the moment. Also us Seniors should be aware that the flu shot can have adverse events and make the flu even worse.
    Studies have shown that getting an annual flu shot can increase your risk of not only influenza, but other respiratory illnesses as well. The reason for this has to do with the superiority of natural immunity. When you are infected naturally with a strain of the influenza virus, the immunity you gain protects you not only against that strain, but other strains as well, and, as the results of one randomized placebo-controlled study suggest, even other viruses! This cross-protection is a benefit the vaccine does not confer. Hence the opportunity cost of vaccination can actually result in increased susceptibility to viral infection.

    Compared with unvaccinated children, children who received the influenza vaccine had an increased risk for acute respiratory illness (ARI) caused by noninfluenza pathogens, according to research published in Vaccine
    https://www.infectiousdiseaseadvisor.com/influenza/increase-acute-respiratory-illness-risk-following-flu-vaccination-in-children/article/757695/ Also

    a study published last year found that vaccinated individuals shed more than six times as much aerosolized virus in their breath than individuals who didn’t get a flu shot.

    \The finding is documented in a study entitled Infectious virus in exhaled breath of symptomatic seasonal influenza cases from a college community. The study authors are Jing Yan, Michael Grantham, Jovan Pantelic, P. Jacob Bueno de Mesquita, Barbara Albert, Fengjie Liu, Sheryl Ehrman, Donald K. Milton and EMIT Consortium.

    13th Jan 2020
    Nobody said that having a flu vaccine prevents you getting influenza, it just decreases the severity of the disease and makes it more likely that you will survive. Those people 'infected naturally' in the first year of H1N1 had no immunity, whatever flu strains they had had in the past, and thousands died. You appear to assume that everyone has a perfectly functioning immune system.
    That aside, the article outlines an intriguing new angle to treating cancer. Good luck to all those imaginative and persistent researchers working to find cures for all the diseases that attack us.
    13th Jan 2020
    No it does not make me want to have a flu shot, I prefer to look after my immune system so it can fight off pathogens, bacteria and viruses that I may come in contact with. I think this is just another flawed research to encourage more sales for big pharma.
    14th Jan 2020
    I do hope you stay safe and well. I prefer to have an annual flu vaccine. I've also had a pneumonia vac at age 65 and another at age 69.
    14th Jan 2020
    Thanks Elizzy, I have not had even a cold for years that I cannot count, I really can't remember, being on a wholefood plant diet helps, I eat a ton of fruit and veggies. Fruit with lots of vitamin c is a big contributor to keeping your immune system healthy.

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