L46 — November 2011 — Cancer Vaccine Research
Intro: Vaccines have been used for decades to protect us from disease. Measles, chickenpox, the flu are some of the common ones. Someday, you may be able to add breast cancer to that list. Researchers at Mayo Clinic are developing a cancer vaccine to hopefully prevent breast and other types of cancer.
In this Mayo Clinic lab, Dr. Keith Knutson and his team are developing vaccines that may one day prevent breast, ovarian and other types of cancer.
What we're interested in doing is moving vaccines from preclinical models into humans with cancer, to prevent cancer and also ultimately to develop cancer vaccines.
The vaccines work by stimulating the body's natural defense mechanism, the immune system, to attack and kill cancer cells.
If you develop a cold or something like that, you do develop an immune response, and that actually doesn't necessarily prevent the disease, but it keeps it at bay and it helps clear it.
Dr. Knutson applies that idea to cancer. A vaccine that trains your immune system to attack cancer cells. Here's how it works: Breast cancer cells make too much of a protein that naturally occurs in the body. The vaccine trains the immune system to recognize those over-expressed proteins as foreign. T cells and other types of cells move out of the lymph system into the blood stream. Once there they travel to the sight of the tumor, attack it and hopefully eradicate it.
The first step will be to test this vaccine in high-risk patients who have had cancer, in hopes of preventing a recurrence.
If that phase one trial proves the vaccine is safe for patients, they'll move on to a phase two clinical trial to see how the vaccine works for a larger number of patients. If it's effective, the phase three trial would then be available for many more people.
We think that the use of vaccines in combination with early detection and appropriate therapies to minimize disease may ultimately lead to reductions in morbidity recurrence in at least breast and ovarian cancer with these vaccines.
Dr. Knutson's ultimate goal? A vaccine that will not only stop recurrence of cancer, but one that will prevent it from developing in the first place.
For Medical Edge, I'm Vivien Williams.
This research is in the beginning phases. It will take time — a few years or more — to determine if breast cancer vaccines will work.
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