Monday, May 31, 2010

Cleveland Clinic researcher hopes to develop breast cancer vaccine


CLEVELAND -- Chances are the only vaccine you've received since you were a kid was maybe a flu shot. Cleveland Clinic immunologist Dr. Vincent Tuohy couldn't understand why there aren't more vaccines for adult diseases.

"We have a wonderful vaccination program for children that protects us from polio, measles and seventeen different diseases actually but it stops at age 13," Dr. Tuohy says.

So for the last eight years, he's researched breast cancer and believes he's discovered the vaccine that will prevent it. He tested it on genetically engineered mice predisposed to breast cancer.

"By ten months one hundred percent of the mice that were not immunized had breast tumors and none of the mice that were immunized had any tumors," Dr. Tuohy says.

What's more, the vaccine seems to inhibit the growth of existing tumors.

"There's nothing fancy about it, we're vaccinating against something that isn't there unless you have tumors so it shouldn't harm you and it should kill the tumors," Dr. Tuohy says.

The trigger is a protein found in lactating breasts called a-lactalbumin. The same protein is also found in breast tumors but not found in healthy breasts. Women who are done breast feeding would get the vaccine that would boost their immune system giving her own body the tools to kill cancer but not damage healthy breast tissue.

"We think that breast cancer is a completely preventable disease in the same way that polio is completely preventable," Dr. Tuohy says.

Incredible news for breast cancer survivor Patti Berns who worries about her daughters facing the disease. "I can breathe easy she doesn't have to start in her thirties getting mammograms because of my history it doesn't have to hang over her head and wonder if I'm going to get it because my mom did," Patti says.

Dr. Tuohy's dream is to create a single shot to give women a shot against a deadly disease. The next step is to get funding so the vaccine can begin human trials. Dr. Tuohy is hoping help may come from Komen for the Cure and the National Cancer Institute. The first research subjects would be women with metastatic breast cancer and a second group of women with the breast cancer gene BRCA 1 or 2.

If all goes well, he hopes a vaccine can be available in about ten years.