In Mice, Breast Cancer "Vaccine" Trains the Body to Fight Cancerous Cells

By Andrew Moseman | June 1, 2010 1:53 pm

vaccine medicineYes, it’s in the early stages of research. And yes, it’s been tested only on mice. But the procedure developed by Vincent Tuohy and his team, billed as a preliminary breast cancer vaccine, has raised hopes once more that one day in the not-too-distant future such a procedure could be available for humans.

In a study this month in Nature Medicine, Tuohy tested the vaccine on mice genetically engineered to be more cancer-prone. The ones that received the full vaccine, with a protein called a-lactalbumin, didn’t develop breast cancer. All the others did.

Cancer presents a quandary that viruses don’t in terms of developing vaccines, experts point out. While viruses are recognized as foreign invaders by the immune system, cancer isn’t. Cancer is an over-development of the body’s own cells. Trying to vaccinate against such cell over-growth would effectively be vaccinating against the recipient’s own body, destroying healthy tissue [CBS News].

But the a-lactalbumin protein could be a marker that helps to get around that problem. It can be found in most cancerous breast tissue, and healthy women produce the protein only during lactation. The idea, then, is to use a-lactalbumin as an antigen—a molecule that attracts the attention of the immune system. Tuohy says the vaccine trains the body’s immune system to recognize the a-lactalbumin protein as a threat, and prepares it to mount a response to the protein if it’s encountered again. So the body’s natural defenses don’t strike haphazardly at healthy cells, but instead target only the cancerous cells that bear the protein. (Because women do produce the protein during lactation, Tuohy says such a procedure is intended for women who are past child-bearing age; they are at higher overall risk anyway.)

Before medical research moves to human trials, though, the Food and Drug Administration typically requires testing on multiple animal species, so Tuohy says he would most likely test rats next.

The FDA has granted approval to two cancer-prevention vaccines: cervical and liver cancer. However, these vaccines target viruses, while the one tested by the Cleveland Clinic targets cancer formation. If any human testing proves successful, the strategy would be to vaccinate women 40 and over as well as younger women with a heightened risk of breast cancer [CNN].

Also, this spring the FDA approved the prostate cancer treatment Provenge, which is often referred to as a prostate cancer vaccine. Provenge takes a somewhat similar approach to the new breast cancer treatment in that it trains the body’s immune system to fight cancerous cells.

Related Content:
80beats: With Prostate Cancer “Vaccine,” Immune System Wages War Against Tumors
80beats: Breast-Feeding May Cut Cancer Risk Among High-Risk Women
80beats: Can Breast Cancer Tumors Vanish Without Treatment?
80beats: Genetic Test Could Predict Breast Cancer Risk for Young Women
Gene Expression: Patenting the “Breast Cancer Gene”

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • jeffrey dach md

    Iodine deficient diets in animals induces breast cancer and goiter.The Shrivastava group in India reported molecular iodine induces apoptosis (programmed cell death) in human breast cancer cell cultures. “Iodine showed cytotoxic effects in the cultured human breast cancer cells”.

    From Mexico, the Carmen Aceves Velasco Group reported Iodine to be safe, with no harmful effects on thyroid function, and an anti-proliferative effect on human breast cancer cell cultures. Their 2009 paper reported the mechanism by which Iodine works as an anti-cancer agent. Iodine binds to membrane lipids called lactones forming iodo-lactones which regulate apoptosis (programmed cell death). Iodine causes apoptosis which makes cancer cells undergo programmed cell death. Dr. Aceves concluded that continuous molecular iodine treatment has a “potent antineoplastic effect” on the progression of mammary cancer.

    From Japan, Dr Funahashi reported a common seaweed food containing high iodine content is more beneficial than chemotherapy on breast cancer . “He found that administration of Lugol’s iodine or iodine-rich Wakame seaweed to rats treated with the carcinogen dimethyl benzanthracene suppressed the development of mammary tumors. The same group demonstrated that seaweed induced apoptosis in human breast cancer cells with greater potency than that of fluorouracil, a chemotherapeutic agent used to treat breast cancer.”

    A 2008 paper by Bernard A. Eskin MD showed that Iodine actually altered gene expression in breast cancer cells, inducing programmed cell death. A 2003 study by Ling Zhang ahowed that molecular Iodine caused lung cancer cells to undergo programmed cell death (apoptosis). These lung cancer cells had been genetically modified to increase iodine uptake. Current Iodine research calls for use of molecular Iodine for all patients with breast cancer.

    For references and More:

    jeffrey dach md

  • Sandra Rayford

    What can I do to to encourage corporations and government to fund Dr. Tuohy’s work?

  • Tom Ames

    To the Iodine enthusiast: LOTS of things induce apoptosis in cell cultures. The trick is to find compounds that do the same to human cancer cells in vivo, with minimal off-target effects.

    Cancer cells in vitro are in a very different environment than those arising endogenously. And cancer behavior in animal models often differs in substantial ways from human cancer.

    There may be some promising research directions here, but you can’t be too careful when using data from in vitro or animal models to infer the action of a compound in the clinic.

  • Brian Too

    @1. jeffrey dach,

    You defined apoptosis 3 times. Why? We pay attention here you know.


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