A vaccine to prevent
breast cancer has shown overwhelmingly favourable results in animals, according
to a study by researchers at Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute.
They found that a single vaccination with the antigen a-lactalbumin prevents
breast cancer tumours from forming in mice, while inhibiting the growth of existing
Human trials could begin within a year.
“We believe 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,”
Vincent Tuohy, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator and an immunologist at
the Lerner Institute said.
“If it works in humans the way it works in mice, this will be monumental.
We could eliminate breast cancer,” he added.
While the researchers are optimistic, they warn it’s a big leap from results in
animals to similar results in humans.
In the study, genetically cancer-prone mice were vaccinated — half with a vaccine
containing the antigen and half with a vaccine that did not contain the
antigen. None of the mice vaccinated with the antigen developed breast cancer,
while all the other mice did.
Tuohy and his team targeted a-lactalbumin, a protein found in the majority of
breast cancers, but not in healthy women, except during lactation. Therefore,
the vaccine can rev up a woman’s immune system to target a-lactalbumin,
stopping tumour formation without damaging healthy breast tissue.
The strategy could be to vaccinate women over 40, when breast cancer risk
begins to increase and pregnancy becomes less likely.
For younger women with a heightened risk of breast cancer, the vaccine may be
an option to consider
instead of prophylactic radical mastectomy, researchers say.
“Most attempts at cancer vaccines have targeted viruses, or cancers that
have already developed,” said Joseph Crowe, M.D., Director of the Breast
Centre at Cleveland Clinic. “Dr. Tuohy is not a breast cancer researcher;
he’s an immunologist, so his approach is completely different – attacking the
tumour before it can develop. It’s a simple concept, yet one that has not been
explored until now.”
Tuohy believes the findings of this study go beyond breast cancer, providing
insight into the development of vaccines to prevent other types of cancer.
A vaccine to prevent