Health in the future: breast cancer vaccine

It's looking more and more promising as the successful animal-tested breast cancer vaccine moves on to human trials.

Vincent K. Tuohy, PhD, an immunologist and researcher in the department of immunology at the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute, and his team, supported by the National Cancer Institute, have been studying "the possibility of a vaccine that would protect women from breast cancer."

On May 30, the American researchers published their findings in the online edition of the journal Nature Medicine (to appear in the print version on June 10), showing that a breast cancer vaccine to target women aged 40 and up and those with a high risk of the disease could be just a few years away.

"Most attempts at cancer vaccines have targeted viruses, or cancers that have already developed," said Joseph Crowe, MD, director of Cleveland Clinic's Breast Center.

The vaccine works very differently from the two US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved vaccines for both cervical- and lung-targeting viruses namely the human papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis B respectively.

It is designed to target ?-lactalbumin, a protein present in most breast cancers and breast milk and should "rev up a woman's immune system to target ?-lactalbumin - thus stopping tumor formation - without damaging healthy breast tissue," according to a Lerner Research Institute announcement.

At the end of March, Swedish researchers had also found that "HAMLET" (Human ?-lactalbumin Made LEtal to Tumor cells) kills 40 different types of cancers and explained their findings to a Swedish national radio station, SR- Sveriges Radio.

"Dr. Tuohy is not a breast cancer researcher, he's an immunologist, so his approach is completely different - attacking the tumor before it can develop. It's a simple concept, yet one that has not been explored until now," added Crowe.

Human trials will begin in 2011 and the goal if successful is to vaccinate women over the age of 40 since breast cancer risk increases after 40 and avoid preventative mastectomies.

This breakthrough research taking place in the US, Europe and Singapore could quickly save numerous lives as HAMLET has also been tested on bladder cancer with current studies looking at skin cancer and brain tumors.

Full study, "An autoimmune-mediated strategy for prophylactic breast cancer vaccination": http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nm.2161.html

Full study, "HAMLET Interacts with Lipid Membranes and Perturbs Their Structure and Integrity":  http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0009384

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