Recent advances in developing synthetic carbohydrate-based vaccines for cancer immunotherapies

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Cancer cells can often be distinguished from healthy cells by the expression of unique carbohydrate sequences decorating the cell surface as a result of aberrant glycosyltransferase activity occurring within the cell; these unusual carbohydrates can be used as valuable immunological targets in modern vaccine designs to raise carbohydrate-specific antibodies. Many tumor antigens (e.g., GM2, Ley, globo H, sialyl Tn and TF) have been identified to date in a variety of cancers. Unfortunately, carbohydrates alone evoke poor immunogenicity, owing to their lack of ability in inducing T-cell-dependent immune responses. In order to enhance their immunogenicity and promote long-lasting immune responses, carbohydrates are often chemically modified to link to an immunogenic protein or peptide fragment for eliciting T-cell-dependent responses. This review will present a summary of efforts and advancements made to date on creating carbohydrate-based anticancer vaccines, and will include novel approaches to overcoming the poor immunogenicity of carbohydrate-based vaccines.

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