Breast cancer survivors and women around the country at risk of breast cancer deserve better options. Women shouldn’t have to spend their lives undergoing monthly breast exams in the shower, worrying about every little bump.
Middle-aged women shouldn’t have to worry about yearly mammograms and breast biopsies that turn out to be benign. Most of all, women shouldn’t have to go through mastectomies, lumpectomies, chemotherapy, or radiation.
So how can we ensure women don’t have to live with the frightening shadow of breast cancer hovering behind them? Preventive techniques like diet, exercise, and avoiding drinking excessively is rarely enough. Women could still be at risk especially if they have family history of the disease or a genetic link.
There is one solution that has come out of the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Vincent Tuohy, an immunologist researchers from the Cleveland Clinic, created a breast cancer vaccine that prevents the disease in 100 percent of mice tested.
The research about this breast cancer vaccine was initially published in May 2010 in the Nature Medicine journal.
However, this vaccine may not be available to women for quite a while longer because it needs to be fully tested on women and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), reports Yahoo News.
After trying for several years to get funding for future research, Tuohy and his team did find an investor who is covering the cost of an FDA Phase 1 clinical trial to test the preventive breast cancer vaccine on human subjects.
Cleveland Clinic created a spinoff company called Shield Biotech to better commercialize the preventive breast cancer vaccine.
The breast cancer vaccine was found to be safe and effective in mouse models including mice that were bred to develop the disease. The vaccine targets the protein alpha-lactalbumin, which is only seen in breast tumors and women who are breastfeeding.
This means that, if the vaccine is found effective and safe in women, the shot will be used on women who are middle-aged after the typical maternity age. Tuohy thinks post-menopausal women are the key demographic for this vaccine.
“What I’m proposing is that we create a shield,” Tuohy said. “In the end, we want to reduce the occurrence of this disease. We’re approaching it from a defensive perspective. It’s a very different approach.”
What sets this whole approach to fighting breast cancer against others is that it goes beyond trying to find a cure. This approach looks to prevent women from getting breast cancer in the first place, explained Dr. Kathleen Ruddy, breast cancer surgeon and Founder of the Breast Health and Healing Foundation.
“He certainly has something here,” Ruddy stated. “It’s a 100 percent effective in animal models. It doesn’t get any better than that in animal studies. The only question now is: Is it going to be safe and effective in women? The only way to answer that is with a clinical trial where the vaccine is tested.”
Through multiple different avenues, the Breast Health and Healing Foundation along with cancer survivor Judy Fitzgerald have worked to secure funding for the Cleveland Clinic breast cancer vaccine. More than $1 million has been raised toward this research.
Some government grants have also assisted in further development of the vaccine, but the private investor made the biggest impact. The spinoff company Shield Biotech will be testing dosage levels and the safety of the vaccine on around 100 women over the coming two years, explained Tuohy.
The clinical trials will involve two groups of women. During the first phase of clinical trials, one group of women will be breast cancer survivors who have undergone chemotherapy, radiation or surgery to treat the disease. The vaccine will show whether or not it can prevent the disease from coming back.
The second group of women will be cancer-free and healthy but at high risk of breast cancer who underwent bilateral mastectomy to reduce their risk. The research will show how to best administer the vaccine, dosage amount, and safety of the vaccine.
Further research will show whether or not the vaccine is effective in the proposed demographic. Tuohy says it may take 10 years or more before it could be on the market.
“If I can prevent my grandchildren from getting this, why can’t we at least try it,” Fitzgerald said.
The future is looking bright in terms of preventing this disease. If you would like to donate to preventive breast cancer research and the cancer vaccine, click here.