Scientists have developed a vaccine which has successfully prevented breast cancer in mice. Human trials are set to begin within the year and if these have positive results would be a major breakthrough in the fight against breast cancer.
Findings from this study will be published in the June 10 edition of Nature Medicine. The research was conducted by a team at the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute. They focused on mice that were genetically predisposed to developing cancer. None of the mice who were given the test vaccine developed breast cancer. Mice who did not receive the vaccine died of cancer.
Dr. Vincent Tuohy, lead investigator and immunologist at the Department of Immunology at the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute took an entirely different approach when looking at creating an effective vaccine. Tuohy, being an expert in immunology, wanted to look at attacking the tumor before it had the chance to develop. In doing so, he decided to target a specific protein called a-lactalbumin, a protein found in most breast cancers. The vaccine would boost a woman's immune system to specifically target that protein, without damaging the surrounding healthy breast tissue.
“We believe that this vaccine will someday be used to prevent breast cancer in adult women in the same way that vaccines prevent polio and measles in children,” said Tuohy. “If it works in humans the way it works in mice, this will be monumental. We could eliminate breast cancer,” he continued.
The body sees viruses as foreign invaders, whereas cancer isn't recognized by the immune system in the same way. Cancer is the over-development of cells and trying to vaccinate against these cells would also destroy any healthy cells.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has in recent years approved two other cancer vaccines. The first to prevent cervical cancer, or the human papillomavirus (HPV), and the second one to prevent against Hepatitis B (HBV). These vaccines aim to protect against developing the virus. If the human trial of the breast cancer vaccine is successful then this would be the first of its kind to prevent a cancer from actually developing.