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How Far Are We from a Cancer Vaccine?

Researchers closer to testing one for breast cancer.

Researchers say they're making progress on a cancer vaccine.
 
“We’ve known for over 100 years that our immune system can protect us from cancer,” says Vincent Tuohy, PhD, Immunologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

Dr. Tuohy is one of a handful of researchers developing vaccines to prevent cancer. “These are diseases that we think can be controlled not just by offense, not just by treatment, which is the current paradigm, but by defense,” he said.

In the lab, he’s come up with a way to prevent tumors by using retired proteins in the body. If the vaccine targets proteins that are no longer present in normal tissues but are present in tumors — tumors cannot grow. The body essentially becomes immune to the targeted cancer.

“It’s immune software. It’s a way of programming your immune system to protect you and keep you healthy,” Dr. Tuohy explained. “What we want to do is increase our probability. We want to get the head start on these tumors.” 

The researchers are working on vaccines for prostate, breast, and ovarian cancers. The next step is to test the vaccines in humans, and if they work, prevention could be the key to stopping these cancers from even getting started.

Dr. Tuohy says he hopes to enroll patients in a phase one trial for a breast cancer vaccine in the next year or so. The vaccine would be injectable and would likely be tested eventually on women at a high-risk for developing breast cancer.


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