(03/11/14) - New vaccines may one day prevent cancer from ever developing. Right now, the attack on cancer does not begin until it starts to grow. In the future, doctors may be able to stop it well before then.
"We've known for over 100 years that our immune system can protect us from cancer," said Cleveland Clinic immunologist Vincent Tuohy.
He is one of just 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.
In the lab, Dr. Tuohy has 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, those tumors cannot grow.
As Tuohy explains, 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," he said.
Researchers are working on vaccines for prostate, breast, and ovarian cancers, he says, "what we want to do is increase our probability. We want to get the head start on these tumors."
The next step is to test the vaccines in humans. 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 testing a breast cancer vaccine in the next year or so. The vaccine would be injectable and would likely be tested eventually on women who are at a high-risk for developing breast cancer.
ABC12 Main Station