Can yeast rise to the challenge of curing cancer?

27 Feb 2017

Modified baker’s yeasts cause an immune response and the production of lymphocyte killers, which detect and eliminate cancerous cells.

Scientists have created yeasts capable of triggering immune responses that target cancer, as part of a project funded by Université Paris-Saclay in France.

Can yeast rise to the challenge of curing cancer?

Clément de Obaldia, a former air traffic controller, retrained in synthetic biology with the aim to find a cure for cancer.

In a few months, by forming a team and raising funds, he created a vaccine which, in mice, induces an immune response against skin cancer cells. He modified baker’s yeasts so that they show cancerous cell markers on their surface. Injected close to the tumour, these yeasts cause an immune response and the production of lymphocyte killers, which detect and eliminate cancerous cells.

The approach is now undergoing clinical trials in the US and, so far, no side effects have been detected.

“Most immunotherapy treatments tested today attempt to boost the immune system by raising certain barriers that normally prevent the system from attacking its own cells, cancerous or not,” says Clément, “This approach can bring about serious auto-immune diseases, which a yeast-based vaccine approach does not, since it simply aims to guide the immune system.

“Like teaching a dog to recognise certain smells, the targeted cancerous markers are identified by an algorithm that compares the DNA of healthy and cancerous cells, then technology allows us to obtain – in less than a week – a yeast that can target the new marker that has been detected.”

This opens the door to personalised medicine that could one day allow the development of therapies adapted to each individual.

Clément’s start-up, Inovactis, is based at Génopole d’Evry, the first BioPark in France dedicated to genetic and genome research. Their work has been possible thanks to a grant of 16,700 euro from Université Paris-Saclay.

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