Two concurrent studies in different parts of the world have lead to breakthroughs providing older women with new hope: within a relative handful of years breast cancer may be eliminated.
News from a US research team
A research team from the Cleveland Clinic Learner Research Institute has published the findings of their breakthrough study in the latest issue of Nature Medicine. The team developed a vaccine that protected mice exposed to breast cancer. The vaccine specifically targets a protein found in most breast cancers.
Cleveland Clinic Learner immunologist, Vincent Tuohy was quoted as saying, “We believe that this vaccine will someday be used to prevent breast cancer in adult women in the same way that vaccines have prevented many childhood diseases.”
The mice in the study were genetically engineered to develop breast cancer. Those given the vaccine did not develop the cancer while all those left untreated did contract the disease.
The researchers stated in a news release that studies with women could start as early as next year. The vaccine would target women past the child-bearing years as younger women-during lactation-generate high numbers of the protein naturally that the vaccine works to destroy. The researchers also pointed out that women past 40 are less likely to become pregnant and more likely to develop breast cancer.
“If it works in humans the way it works in mice,” Tuohy stated, “this will be monumental. We could eliminate breast cancer.”
In recent years the FDA has approved two anti-cancer vaccines, one prevents cervical cancer and the other fights liver cancer. Both, however, target viruses that lead to the cancers. The breast cancer vaccine would target a protein that leads to the formation of cancer cells.
New Swedish DNA cancer vaccine targets tumors
Meanwhile, at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, a research team has successfully developed a vaccine that shuts off the blood supply to tumors. It effectively starves them.
What the team did was find a way to create a vaccine that stops the process of proteins developing a network of blood vessels to feel a cancerous tumor that has developed in the body. The protein, known as Delta-like ligand 4 (DLL4), regulates the formation of new blood vessel networks. By blocking DLL4 near tumors new blood vessels cannot form and the tumor dies.
A protein known as Delta-like ligand 4 (DLL4) has recently been identified as an important component in regulating the formation of new blood vessels.
Kristian Pietras, who has led the team of researchers explained, “We have worked with breast cancer tumors since they often express high levels of DLL4, while normal breast tissue does not. We hope that it will be possible to use this vaccine to prevent recurrence of breast cancer after surgical treatment.”
Vaccination against proteins that initiate cancer is an entirely new approach. The vaccines are similar to the ones effectively created to combat viruses. These new anti-cancer vaccines are targeting proteins instead and help train the immune system to attack the protein as an invader. Without the vaccine, the immune system treats the protein as part of the body and allows the proteins to begin mutating normal cells into cancer cells.