The Phase I trial was possible after a new model of translational research being pursued at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University that integrates the latest cancer research with bio-inspired technology development.
Most therapeutic cancer vaccines available today require doctors to first remove the patient's immune cells from the body, then re-programme them and reintroduce them back into the body, researchers said.
The new approach, which was first reported to eliminate tumours in mice, instead uses a small disk-like sponge about the size of a fingernail that is made from FDA-approved polymers.
The sponge is implanted under the skin, and is designed to recruit and re-programme a patient's own immune cells on site, instructing them to travel through the body, home in on cancer cells and then kill them.
The technology was initially designed to target cancerous melanoma in skin, but might have application to other cancers.
In the preclinical study reported in Science Translational Medicine, 50 percent of mice treated with two doses of the vaccine - mice that would have otherwise died from melanoma within about 25 days - showed complete tumour regression.
"It is rare to get a new technology tested in the laboratory and moved into human clinical trials so quickly. We're beyond thrilled with the momentum, and excited about its potential," said Glenn Dranoff, Wyss Institute associate faculty member.


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