Scientists have been searching for a preventative breast cancer treatment for countless years, but a new study may be the light at the end of the long-withstanding tunnel. According to Time, staff physician at Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center, Dr. G. Thomas Budd, is spearheading a study to investigate whether a vaccine can protect women from getting breast cancer.
Like a vaccine that attacks a virus or bacteria, researchers are studying whether or not the immune system can be trained to recognize and destroy breast cancer cells. As Time reports, the vaccine is designed to target an aggressive form of breast cancer called a triple negative. This form of cancer lacks estrogen, progesterone or HER2, which common breast cancer drugs typically target.
The vaccine specifically attacks a breast cancer protein called alpha lactalbumin, which are active when a woman is lactating. When lactation ends, the gene for the protein goes on mute, inhibiting its production. However, Time writes that 70 percent of triple negative breast cancers actively produce this protein, which makes it a reasonable target for the immune system.
The study will happen in phases, the first focusing on safety and will include 18 to 24 women who have already been diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer and treated with other therapies. They will undergo three doses of the vaccine—each two weeks apart—and scientists will observe whether the participants produce any immune response or if the cancer returns. If this early phase is proven safe, the study will expand to women who are at high risk for developing this type of cancer, but who have yet to be diagnosed. “I would say this could be game changing,” Budd tells Time.
Budd believes that the vaccine will be most effective in preventing the cancer or preventing its reoccurrence. “I do think the target we are using makes a difference, and the major lesson from previous vaccine trials shows that ultimately we ought to move more to the prevention setting than the treatment setting,” he says.