By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent
Published: 7:30AM BST 08 Oct 2009
Researchers have engineered stem cells to mimic some characteristics of cancer that when injected trick the body into building up a natural immunity to the disease.
The work focuses on colon cancer but the scientists believe it could be widened to provide a "universal cancer vaccine".
The theory is similar to a normal vaccine which mimics the disease it is vaccinating against and so builds up natural immunity.
Then when the patient is exposed to, or in danger of developing, the actual disease the body is ready to fight back.
Dr Zihai Li, of the University of Connecticut Stem Cell Institute, said the findings opened up a whole new model approach to cancer research.
"Cancer and stem cells share many molecular and biological features", he said.
"By immunising the host with stem cells, we are able to fool the immune system to believe that cancer cells are present and thus to initiate a tumour-combating immune programme.
The immunologist's colleague Dr Bei Liu, added: "Although we have only tested the protection against colon cancer, we believe that stem cells might be useful for generating an immune response against a broad-spectrum of cancers, thus serving as a universal cancer vaccine."
The latest research is the first to use human stem cells to vaccinate against cancer.
The team witnessed a 'dramatic' decline in tumour growth within the immunised mice.
The findings published in the journal Stem Cell, come just two months after scientists found a link between bacteria and many cases of colon cancer.
The breakthrough also pointed the way to vaccines or drugs to fight the disease, one of the most common forms of cancer in Britain. More than 37,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer every year in Britain
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore believed that they have uncovered how the bacteria could be a trigger for cancer.
Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's science information manager, said: "This is an interesting study and suggests a new approach to cancer vaccines – however scientists will need to test these ideas in clinical studies before we know if this approach can be used to treat cancer patients."