A vaccine for cancer sounds almost too good to be true. However, many scientists see this as a promising future treatment option. Recently, Joke den Haan received an NWO TOP grant worth 675.000 euros for her research about cancer vaccines. The grants are awarded to outstanding research groups on a yearly basis. The group of Den Haan got one of the eleven grants and will use this money to develop an optimal strategy for cancer vaccines.
The TOP money from NWO (Dutch Organization for Scientific Research) is granted to cooperating research groups. ‘I’m very happy with it,’ says Den Haan. ‘We combine our knowledge about the immune system with the expertise of professor Gert Storm form the University of Utrecht about fatty vesicles, to develop optimal vaccines for cancer.’
A cancer vaccine activates the cells of the immune system in such a way that these cells are able to recognize and kill cancer cells. This is a promising therapy and a lot of research is going on about this treatment option. The aim of the research groups from Amsterdam and Utrecht is to develop a vaccine that will activate the cells of the immune system in an efficient and effective manner.
Previous research has identified an immune cell which is capable of effectively activating other immune cells. Subsequently, the activated immune cells can detect and kill cancer cells. The research groups want to make use of fatty vesicles that will help the vaccine to specifically target the activating immune cell. In this way, the researchers hope to switch the immune system ‘on’ to improve the killing of cancer cells. However, challenges related to this strategy still need to be tackled: ‘We have to make sure, for example, that the body will not degrade the fatty vesicles,’ says Den Haan.
The TOP grants offered by NWO stimulate research groups to improve or renew their partnerships. Within the life sciences, grants are awarded to groundbreaking health research that have a widespread effect on the scientific community or society. 675.000 euros is the maximum amount of money groups can receive. With this sum, scientific staff and material research costs for the next couple of years can be covered.