In theory, a beguiling strategy for fighting cancer is to enlist the body's immune system to kill tumors. That would avoid the terrible side effects and limited potency of drugs and radiation treatments. But so far, it hasn't worked very well.
Now comes tantalizing evidence, reported in the Jan. 28 issue of Science, that a takeoff on this approach seems to work--at least in rats. A team of scientists at Case Western Reserve University and the Eastern Institute of Hepatobiliary Surgery in Shanghai reasoned that the immune system must not be recognizing the tumor cells. So they decided to introduce the immune system to its target. They isolated cells that rally the body to fight an intruder and fused them with liver-cancer cells. The resulting cells were no longer carcinogenic--but because they retained some aspects of the tumor, they were particularly effective at priming the immune system to fight the cancer. In fact, the fused cells cured rats with liver cancer--and vaccinated healthy rats against the disease.