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Science Behind Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID Vaccine To Be Adapted For Cancer

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The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer may be creating one of the vaccines fighting COVID-19, but the science behind the vaccines was created by BioNTech. Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahin, a married couple and dedicated physicians, founded BioNTech.

When COVID-19 first struck, Tureci realized that her work on the immune response could be applied to fighting COVID-19. She was of course correct and they created the first widely used vaccine. But the original application of this technology was actually to fight cancer.

The vaccine works by triggering an immune response.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines used the same mechanism to defend against COVID-19. Traditionally, vaccines have relied on injecting a dead virus to train our body to recognize a virus. But this new technology used messanger RNA (mRNA) instead. They work by teaching our bodies to create a protein that will trigger an immune response.

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The mRNA in the COVID-19 vaccine targets spike proteins.

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When you look at a picture of COVID-19, you will notice that it has unique spiky balls covering its surface. These are spike proteins. So, when we get the vaccine, it teaches our body to look for, and destroy, those proteins, which are associated with the COVID-19 virus.

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How does this apply to cancer?

The same mechanism can be used to fight cancer. An mRNA vaccine can be created to target any unique cell structure, like a mutated cancer cell. Once a unique feature of a cancer cell is discovered, the mRNA can be programmed with instructions for our immune system on how to identify and attack the tumor cells. This technology has already been effective in mouse treatments.

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When can we expect cancer vaccines?

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According to Tureci, we are still a little ways away. She said on the matter, “That's very difficult to predict in innovative development. But we expect that within only a couple of years, we will also have our vaccines (against) cancer at a place where we can offer them to people.”

h/t: NBC New York

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