Penn Med finds new vaccine for breast cancer
The four-week vaccine regimen proved effective in 85 percent of subjects with a form of breast cancer
February 10, 2012, 1:01 am·
The cure for cancer remains unknown, but researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine may have developed a way to stop one kind of cancer in its tracks.
The study, led by Brian Czerniecki, Co-Director of the Rena Rowan Breast Center and Surgical Director of the Immunotherapy Program for the Abramson Cancer Center, found that giving women with early stages of ductal carcinoma in situ — a type of breast cancer — a four-week vaccine regimen resulted in a dramatic improvement of symptoms for 85 percent of test subjects.
The vaccines also successfully eradicated cancer cells in 20 percent of participants.
The study was performed on 27 women with HER2-positive DCIS. DCIS is a form of early breast cancer. Results from this study can be applied to breast cancer prevention and treatment, Czerniecki wrote in an email.
Lynn Ayre, Director of Cancer Research at the American Cancer Society, is optimistic about the results of Czerniecki’s study.
“There’s much vaccine activity going on in the medical community,” she said. “Some say a breast cancer vaccine will be here in our lifetime.”
Furthermore, the use of vaccines could reduce the need for surgery and radiation, Czerniecki wrote.
The vaccines are made from a combination of anti-HER2 dendritic cells and the patients’ own white blood cells.
“Dr. Czerniecki is trying to train the body’s immune system to react to cancer cells the same way it’d react to infection,” Ayres said. The hope is that the vaccines would cause the body to fight cancer cells itself, she added.
Using vaccines as a potential treatment for cancer is a new area of cancer research.
“This vaccine will be personalized for the patient,” Ayres said. “In the future, treatments will be much more personalized.”
Czerniecki does not see any potential ethical problems with this treatment and concludes from his research that the vaccine regimen is feasible.
Ayres said using vaccines to cure cancer is less invasive, would have fewer side effects and would probably be a less toxic alternative for cancer patients. Furthermore, she cited Kent State University’s Gary Koski — a collaborator on the study — in saying that vaccine treatments would be more cost-effective.
The vaccine is still seeking FDA approval and Czerniecki needs to expand his study to include more participants, Ayres said. She added that the research will eventually extend into treating invasive forms of breast cancer.
However, the study’s eighty-five percent success rate is “fantastic,” and “we can expect a cure to DCIS in five years,” she said.
“It opens the possibility of either preventing recurrence of breast cancer or primary prevention of estrogen independent breast cancer,” Czerniecki wrote.
But Ayres has even higher hopes for this research. “This vaccine could also help other kinds of cancer, not just breast cancer,” she said.
In addition, the results of the study may also have a positive impact on philanthropic causes toward breast cancer research.
College junior Alexis Mayer, who is planning a breast cancer awareness event in March, said this study could result in more people giving to charitable organizations, especially ones that support women with DCIS.
“In general people are more likely to give to causes that could be successful,” she said. “People like positive results.”