Prototype vaccine could one day prevent breast cancer
US scientists have developed a prototype breast cancer vaccine that has shown promising results in very early laboratory tests on mice.
The vaccine contains a protein called alpha-lactalbumin, which is found in large quantities in the majority of breast cancers.
Vaccination therefore primes the mice's immune system to target cells containing the protein.
The vaccine was developed by scientists at Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute in Ohio, US, and the results from laboratory tests will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Nature Medicine.
The research team bred mice which were genetically prone to developing breast cancer and gave half of them the prototype vaccine, while the other half received an injection that did not contain alpha-lactalbumin.
None of the mice which had received the alpha-lactalbumin vaccine developed breast cancer, while all of the unvaccinated mice did.
However, a Cancer Research UK spokesperson commented that further research and clinical trials are needed to work out whether the vaccine could be effective in humans.
Cancer Research UK's professor of medical oncology Robert Hawkins, who is based at the Christie Hospital/Paterson Institute in Manchester, said: "This very early study describes an interesting approach to the prevention of breast cancer."
However, he cautioned: "It will be several years before this vaccine can be tested fully to assess its safety and effectiveness as a way to stop the disease developing in women."
Dr Vincent Tuohy, the Ohio-based immunologist who led the research, commented: "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."
Dr Joseph Crowe, director of the Breast Centre at Cleveland Clinic, explained that most previous attempts at cancer vaccines have targeted viruses or existing tumours.
"Dr Tuohy is not a breast cancer researcher, he's an immunologist, so his approach is completely different - attacking the tumour before it can develop," he revealed.
The US team hope to begin clinical trials next year and believe that the new vaccine concept could be used to prevent other types of cancer as well.