The messenger RNA (mRNA) technology used for the development of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines will have an immense impact on health care, particularly on the fight against cancer. Right now, scientists are exploring ways by which they can use the mRNA platform to prevent cancer. It could be an incredibly effective way of reducing the risk of cancer, especially in people with a medical history of it. The promises are astonishing and soon, scientists will scramble to find a way to prevent the big C from breaking apart families with the use of the mRNA.
How mRNa Works
The SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is made up of proteins. This protein can multiply and attack the body. But because the body does not recognize yet these proteins, it overcompensates and thus produces the symptoms that eventually cause people to die. The proteins weaken the body’s immune system to the point that it can no longer fight the attacks.
The premise of the mRNA is to “remind” your body’s cells what these proteins look like. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine will give your body a bit of these SARS-CoV-2 proteins, so that the next time your body encounters the protein, they know already how to fight it. This is different from getting inoculated with an inactivated virus that produces antibodies.
How Cancer Attacks the Body
Here’s the thing: cancer cells make proteins, too. This means that mRNA vaccines can target this specific area of how cancer progresses in the body. The problem with cancer cells is that once they start to multiply, it is almost impossible to stop them. There is also no known cure for cancer, although there has been a lot of research on the therapeutic efficacy of anti-cancer agents using cell viability and cell proliferation assays.
To understand how mRNA technology can help prevent cancer, it is important to differentiate that this will not be a cure once cancer has set in your body. Of course, scientists will also study the possibility of using the mRNA to treat cancer, but there have been no developments in that regard. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America said that using mRNA has been promising in treating melanoma, though.
Prevention vs. Treatment
It is important to note that the mRNA might not be a viable technology to cure cancer. Yes, even in the far future. Instead, what it can do is prevent cancer the way HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccines have been preventing cervical cancer. Since women started getting HPV vaccines a decade ago, it has prevented between 80% and 90% of cervix cancers.
Couple that with the improved awareness and screening for cervical cancer, and you can say that the HPV vaccine has done its job. Yet, the HPV vaccine doesn’t treat those who already have cancer. But how about with the mRNA?
Since mRNA editing is a flexible technology, experts said, it might be possible to use it even when the tumor is already in the body. Any type of protein can be encoded in the mRNA, so this means it might be effective against any type of cancer. While the specific protein that will be used is different, the mRNA will act in the same way.
There are two ways this new technology can pave the way for cancer treatment. The first one is by injecting the mRNA into the tumor cells. The cells will produce proteins that will signal the immune system to start fighting it off. The immune system will see the proteins as a foreign pathogen that has to be removed from the body.
The second one is by using the mRNA in the immune cells. The protein will enhance the sensors in the immune cells to detect tumors. With enhanced sensors, the immune system can start attacking the tumors in the body.
Presently, researchers are already creating synthetic proteins to kill tumors or activate the immune system against them. With the use of the mRNA, all they will need to do is encode the proteins and deliver them to the immune cells or tumor. This will allow the cells to produce their own way of fighting the tumor.
This breakthrough technology will not only save lives as the world battles against the COVID-19 pandemic, but it also promises to bring an end to cancer. Although the world has suffered in the past year because of the pandemic, millions more have suffered, are suffering, and will suffer if experts cannot find a cure for cancer or a way to prevent it. Thanks to mRNA, the future looks bright.