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Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center recently announced promising results in their cancer research. They used customized Messenger RNA vaccines which were individually tailored for each patient in the study. MRNA vaccines “teach” the cells in our bodies how to make a protein which will trigger an immune response. This type of research using mRNA vaccines has been ongoing for decades. In fact, the Covid-19 vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna leverage this technology.

In the only study of its kind, the MSKCC clinical trial targets pancreatic cancer specifically. This type of cancer offers a five-year survival rate of only 7%. Only 2% of patients live for ten years. The scientists suspected that the immune system plays a role in the survival of this tiny percentage of patients. They found that the more immune “T cells” found inside the tumor, the longer the patient survives. Then they discovered the mechanism which sends a signals to those immune cells. They are called neoantigens, which alert the T cells that foreign cells are present and must be attacked. The mRNA vaccine causes immune cells called “Dendritic cells” to make the neoantigen proteins. These neoantigens remain in the blood and can fight similar cell mutations for years later.

Doctors sampled each patient’s own tumor biopsies and genetically sequenced the cells to find the mutations which produce the best neoantigen proteins. They then custom crafted therapeutic cancer vaccines composed of these neoantigens. Customizing immunotherapy is a huge breakthrough for cancer research. The early results of this clinical trial are promising. Where medications often have less efficacy over time as tumors learn to combat them, this approach uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer, which also reduces side effects. MSKCC expects that customized immunotherapy will play a major role in the arsenal to treat this devastating disease. Isn’t that incredible? Using our own immune systems to fight tumors is beyond fascinating.

Have you ever taken time to consider how complex our bodies are? Oxygen is transported all throughout the body even as carbon dioxide waste is removed. Food is broken down into usable nutrients, and the rest leaves. Water replenishes cells throughout our entire body, and toxins exit. We don’t have the technology to manufacture a usable, thinking brain, certainly not in the size and complexity of our own. Our immune systems keep us free from diseases. We are certainly an incredible creation.

Anyone who ponders the fantastic wonder of our existence must certainly conclude that it is all by superhuman design. Have we ever stopped to thank Hashem for the myriad of design elements of our world? We have no way to comprehend the vast complexity of what goes into making our daily lives possible. Yet we do have the means to express our appreciation and acknowledgement to the One who blessed us with our lives. The formulas are thousands of years old and were introduced and approved by the Men of the Great Assembly. The order of our prayers encapsulates the gratitude and reverence we feel in thanks to Hashem.

While the rest of the year is busy with jobs, raising children, and the like, we have a very special opportunity to reconnect with Hashem during the High Holy Days. We take a break from our schedules and spend our time in supplication. On Yom Kippur we divorce ourselves from our physicality and become as purely spiritual as possible. We refrain from eating, drinking, bathing, wearing leather shoes, and other pleasures of this world so we can elevate ourselves to a higher plane of existence. Instead of dreading the 25-hour fast, perhaps we can look forward to this very special gift from Hashem to connect with Him. No other nation is offered this opportunity, certainly not on this scale. Like the neoantigens calling out to the T cells to come to the rescue, we have the ability to call out to our Father in Heaven and let him know of our plight, our worries, our concerns. We feel confident that He will hear our cries and recognize our attempt to better ourselves and become the best versions of ourselves, so that we can then serve Him with love and devotion.


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