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New Breast Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise In Curbing Deadly Disease

Update Date: Jan 05, 2017 09:00 AM EST

A team of scientists discovered an experimental vaccine that is safe and effectively stimulates the immune system leading to regression of early-stage breast cancer.

Immunotherapy has gained immense popularity in the world of research as it promises a new means to treat cancer. It involves developing therapies that utilize a patient's own immune system to fight the disease. Now, researchers at the Moffitt Cancer Center is working on a new vaccine that targets the HER2 protein on breast cancer cells, which results in a slowdown in the progression of cancer.

The HER2 protein is overexpressed in about 25 percent of all breast cancer tumors. It's the root cause of the disease's aggressiveness and poor prognosis, especially in late-stage breast cancer patients.

Moreover, the sad thing about breast cancer and other types of cancer at that is that the body's immune system can't identify and fight cell abnormalities. As a result, as the cancer cells spread, the immune system loses its ability to detect them.

Creating A Personalized Vaccine

In the study published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, the researchers developed a vaccine that helps the immune system detect the HER2 protein on breast cancer cells. They made the vaccine from immune cells called dendritic cells that were harvested from each individual patient, creating a personalized vaccine.

To test the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, the team performed a clinical trial on 54 women who have HER2-expressing early stage breast cancer. The researchers injected each woman with a dose of their personal dendritic cell vaccine once a week for over 6 weeks.

Safe and Effective

Results of the trial show that the vaccine is safe since the patients only experienced low-grade toxicities. However, there were adverse effects such as fatigue, injection site reactions and chills.

In terms of the breast cancer vaccine's efficacy, the researchers reported that 80 percent of the trial participants had a detectable immune response in their peripheral blood or in their sentinel lymph node. These are the locations where cancer cells spread first.

"These results suggest that vaccines are more effective in DCIS, thereby warranting further evaluation in DCIS or other minimal disease settings, and the local regional sentinel lymph node may serve as a more meaningful immunologic endpoint," Brian Czerniecki, chair of the Department of Breast Oncology at Moffitt, said in a press release.

Breast Cancer By The Numbers

Breast cancer is considered one of the deadliest types of cancers in women. According to the Breast Cancer Organization, about one in 8 women in the United States or 12 percent will develop invasive breast cancer over their lifetime. Moreover. about 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2016.

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