New Vaccine To Treat Breast Cancer

A revolutionary jab that could both prevent and treat breast cancer has been developed.

The drug – to be tested on women as early as next year – could wipe out up to 70 per cent of breast cancers, potentially saving the lives of up to 2000 Australian women each year.

Its creator, US-based Dr Vincent Tuohy, said the effects could be “monumental”.

“We believe that this vaccine will someday be used to prevent breast cancer in adult women in the same way that vaccines have prevented many childhood diseases,” he said.

The theory behind the vaccine could eventually be used to target other types of cancer. The drug targets a protein called alpha-lactalbumin that lurks in most breast cancer tumours. Having the jab revs up the immune system, priming it to destroy the protein as it appears and so stop tumours forming. It also harnesses the power of the immune system to shrink pre-existing growths by up to half.

Dr Tuohy’s team tested the vaccine on rodents that were genetically prone to breast cancer. Those which did not have the jab developed breast cancers by the age of 10 months, but all of those that were immunised remained cancer-free, the journal Nature Medicine reports.

Dr Tuohy, an expert in the workings of the immune system from one of America’s top hospitals, said: “It was a yes/no result – it was as clear as a bell. We really believe that breast cancer is a completely preventable disease.” The search for cancer vaccines has until now been hampered by fears that healthy tissue would be destroyed along with tumours. But this drug targets only the protein and, therefore, diseased cells. The only drawback is that alpha-lactalbumin is also found in healthy breasts when they are producing milk so a woman who has the jab while young could not breastfeed in the future, or her immune system would respond. This should not affect her ability to have a baby, however.

Dr Tuohy hopes to test the jab for the first time next year. One trial would look at its ability to shrink tumours in women with advanced breast cancer. The second would involve young women whose family history puts them at high risk of the disease.

Researchers say the vaccine would be targeted at women over the age of 40, because it disrupts breastfeeding and older women are less likely to become pregnant. Older women are also more likely to develop breast cancer.

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