Although the presence of cancer suggests failure of the immune system to protect against development of tumors, the possibility that immunity can be redirected and focused to generate an anti-tumor response offers great translational possibility. The key to this is identifying antigens likely to be present in any given tumor and functionally critical to tumor survival and growth. Such tumor-associated antigens (TAAs) are varied and optimally should be absent from normal tissue. Of particular interest are TAAs associated with the tumor stroma, as immunity directed against the stroma may restrict the ability of the tumor to grow and metastasize. Important to directing the immune system toward an effect anti-tumor response is the understanding of how TAAs are processed and how the tumor is able to evade immune elimination. The process of immunoediting happens in response to the selective pressure that the immune system places upon tumor cell populations and allows for emergence of tumor cells capable of escaping immune destruction. Efforts to harness the immune system for clinical application has been aided by vaccines based on purified recombinant protein or nucleic acid TAAs. For example, a vaccine for canine melanoma has been developed and approved based on immunization with DNA components of tyrosinase, a glycoprotein essential to melanin synthesis. The performance of cancer vaccines has been aided in some cases when supplemented with immunostimulatory molecules such as interleukin 2 or a novel extracellular matrix vaccine adjuvant. Vaccines with the broadest menu of antigenic targets may be those most likely to succeed against cancer. For this reason, tissue vaccines produced from harvested tumor material may offer significant benefit. With several cancer vaccines on the veterinary and human markets, efforts to understand basic tumor immunology are soon to yield great dividends.
- Tumor stroma