NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WNH) — Scientists at Yale School of Medicine have gotten a major boost in their search for a cure for cancer in the form of a personalized shot. They are now part of the White House initiative called the Cancer Moonshot, a program to fund and speed up key research with millions of grant dollars.

The hope is that, unlike chemotherapy, someday scientists could produce a personalized vaccine to target and kill only the cancerous cells.

News 8 went inside the Yale laboratories, where scientists tirelessly work to figure that out.

The discovery of how to harness the power of mRNA technology during the COVID-19 pandemic opened new scientific doors.

Now, Yale researchers appear to have discovered a new path to that lofty goal of creating that personalized cancer vaccine.

“Using the mRNA technology, what we’re doing is converting a particular kind of cell called a dendritic cell, and we are then using that dendritic cell to reeducate that patient’s immune system,” explained Douglas Hanlon, Ph.D., a Yale research scientist.

Dendritic cell. (Source: Yale School of Medicine)

Researchers describe the mRNA as the body’s GPS, which needs directions plugged into it. That dendritic cell is now seen as the master switch to the body’s own immune system.

Dr. Richard Edelson accidentally made medical history 40 years ago. With his research team, he invented photopheresis, a process that primes a patient’s blood to target cancerous cells when it is out back in.

But at the time, technology could not explain how it worked. This process is still used today, and it is finally understood. Edelson said this is an exciting time in cancer research.

“It captivated me and my colleagues and took us only 40 years to break the code, and that perhaps we could use it for cancer in general, and that’s where we are right now. It looks like we have a very good chance to do that,” Edelson said.

He said he never could have imagined where cancer researchers are today during their decades of research.

“For me, to fast forward to where we are now is beyond a dream coming true. It’s unbelievably thrilling to me,” Edelson said. “We will take this as far as we can and then hand the baton to others. I think this is something for the ages.”

The funding from the White House Cancer Moonshot project has a theme of funding projects with high risk and high reward.

“I know this is high reward, but I no longer think this is high risk,” Edelson said.

The scientists on Edelson’s team point out that, unlike chemotherapy, targeted immunology only targets cancer cells in tumors. It could be truly personalized, targeted medicine.

Yale was one of three schools the White House chose for the Cancer Moonshot. The others are Emory University and Georgia Tech, where teams of researchers are ramping up their unique areas of cancer research to achieve a common goal.