June 01, 2010

Potential Breast Cancer Vaccine Could be Just a Few Years Away

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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 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.

Nature Medicine - An autoimmune-mediated strategy for prophylactic breast cancer vaccination

Although vaccination is most effective when used to prevent disease, cancer vaccine development has focused predominantly on providing therapy against established growing tumors. The difficulty in developing prophylactic cancer vaccines is primarily due to the fact that tumor antigens are variations of self proteins and would probably mediate profound autoimmune complications if used in a preventive vaccine setting. Here we use several mouse breast cancer models to define a prototypic strategy for prophylactic cancer vaccination. We selected α-lactalbumin as our target vaccine autoantigen because it is a breast-specific differentiation protein expressed in high amounts in the majority of human breast carcinomas and in mammary epithelial cells only during lactation. We found that immunoreactivity against α-lactalbumin provides substantial protection and therapy against growth of autochthonous tumors in transgenic mouse models of breast cancer and against 4T1 transplantable breast tumors in BALB/c mice. Because α-lactalbumin is conditionally expressed only during lactation, vaccination-induced prophylaxis occurs without any detectable inflammation in normal nonlactating breast tissue. Thus, α-lactalbumin vaccination may provide safe and effective protection against the development of breast cancer for women in their post–child-bearing, premenopausal years, when lactation is readily avoidable and risk for developing breast cancer is high.

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 LEthal to Tumor cells) kills 40 different types of cancers.

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