This is more of a genuine curiosity question than anything, but how is it that we have developed a vaccine for feline Leukemia, but can’t develop vaccines for other cancers? (Both feline and human.)



We have a vaccine for Feline Leukemia virus, but admittedly it’s not our best vaccine. There are some retroviruses in cats, like this one, that can manifest as cancers. The vaccine in this case targets the virus, not the cancer.

A similar thing in humans developed recently is the
human papillomavirus

vaccine, which targets the virus associated with many cervical cancers.

And we sort of can develop vaccines against other cancers, but they have to be made on an individual basis. Autologous tumor cell vaccines involve taking cells from somebody’s cancer, processing them into a vaccine, and then vaccinating the patient with it. The aim of this therapy is to stimulate the patient’s immune system against their own cancer.

This is a useful launching point for science fiction, but is a little beyond the scope of this blog.

Actually harnessing the immune system to fight cancer is the new horizon. The newer kids on the block for anti cancer treatments aren’t chemotherapy that targets all rapidly dividing cells. You have drugs that take the breaks off the immune system and uses immine to attack and kill cancer (with autoimmunity as a side effect), and drugs that target things like the way tumours source blood vessels for nutrition and aim to literally starve the cells to death. Other therapies includ looking at mutations on the cancer cell (what went wrong with the cell to make it cancerous) an targetting those mutations.

An example of an actual vaccine to prevent cancer, human papilloma virus is one of the biggest causes for cervical cancer. That’s why the HPV vaccine is called the cervical cancer vaccine.

In research are cancer vaccines and also lots of other ways to manipulate the immune system and to try to fight cancer.

Vaccine development and targeted and immune based anti cancer therapy though is really complicated. Making things even more complicated is that even though we use the word cancer like it’s one disease, cancer actually describes a bunch of different diseases. Breasts cancer is different to skin cancer is different to thyroid cancer is different to lung cancer. A small cell lung cancer is a completely different disease to a squamous cell lung cancer. Melanoma (a skin cancer) is completely different to basal cell carcinoma (another skin cancer). Treatments that work for one cancer don’t work for another.

Even though we have made advances in medicine and science there’s still heaps we don’t know. Our brains like to compartmentalize pathways. Things that seemed black and white in science even ten years ago is more grey now and the instruments and technology we have is still extremely blunt for what we need it to do.

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