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Lifechanging vaccine could mean the end of breast cancer, clinical trial finds

[Dec. 13, 2023: JD Shavit, The Brighter Side of News]

Jennifer Davis, a resilient woman from a small Ohio town, holds a special place in this milestone. She became the world's first recipient of the vaccine in October 2021. (CREDIT: Cleveland Clinic)

Breast cancer remains a formidable adversary, affecting countless lives each year, with an estimated one in eight women in the United States facing the grim possibility of developing the disease at some point in their lifetime.

This sobering statistic is further exacerbated by the fact that, on average, 42,000 women in the US succumb to breast cancer annually. However, amidst this gloomy landscape, a glimmer of hope emerges in the form of a groundbreaking vaccine that has the potential to significantly reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer - a development that could one day eliminate this deadly disease altogether.


The remarkable vaccine, targeting the most aggressive form of breast cancer known as triple-negative breast cancer, has been in the making for decades, thanks to tireless research efforts at the renowned Cleveland Clinic and the innovative work of Anixa Biosciences in San Jose, California. Dr. Amit Kumar, CEO of Anixa, expressed the vaccine's potential impact succinctly, saying, "This vaccine could potentially eliminate breast cancer."

The vaccine's preliminary findings from its initial trial, involving 16 courageous women, were published recently. The results are nothing short of encouraging, with participants reporting no adverse side effects and, more importantly, no recurrence of their cancer thus far.


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Jennifer Davis, a resilient woman from a small Ohio town, holds a special place in this milestone. She became the world's first recipient of the vaccine in October 2021, marking a pivotal moment in the battle against breast cancer.

Davis, reflecting on her participation in the trial, said, "This is how we advance medicine. It's important to be a part of those things. I am just beyond grateful."


Jennifer's journey began in September 2018 when she received the dreaded diagnosis of breast cancer, six months after an abnormality was first detected during a routine mammogram and ultrasound. Her initial biopsy had yielded negative results, but she sensed that something was amiss.

"I really wanted to believe everything was OK, but I knew something wasn't right," Davis recalled. Determined to seek clarity, she sought a second opinion and underwent another biopsy, which revealed that she had triple-negative breast cancer, the most aggressive form of the disease.


At just 41 years old, Jennifer Davis had no family history of cancer. Faced with the daunting prospect of this aggressive cancer, she underwent a grueling regimen of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and radiation therapy, eventually achieving remission. However, the shadow of fear continued to loom large. "I was always nervous and afraid of it coming back," she admitted.

It was during her cancer care at the Cleveland Clinic that Jennifer learned about the experimental vaccine trial, and without hesitation, she chose to participate. As a registered nurse herself, she found reassurance in the vaccine's extensive preclinical trials on animals, which revealed no cancer recurrence or severe allergic reactions. "That was all I needed to hear," Davis said, and she hasn't looked back since. Over the two years since receiving the vaccine, she reports feeling better than ever.

The development of this revolutionary vaccine traces its roots back more than two decades to the research efforts at the Cleveland Clinic, spearheaded by the late Dr. Vincent Tuohy. Dr. Kumar, impressed by the vaccine's potential, approached the clinic with the vision of bringing it to fruition. "I looked at it and I saw the vision," Kumar said.


But how exactly does this vaccine work? "Is it, in essence, teaching your body not to grow a tumor?" asked CBS13 reporter Ashley Sharp. Dr. Kumar's response shed light on the innovative approach: "That's exactly right. It's teaching your body to destroy the cells that can grow a tumor."

The vaccine targets a lactation protein called α-lactalbumin, which is no longer found after lactation in normal, aging tissues but is present in most triple-negative breast cancers. If breast cancer develops, the vaccine is designed to prompt the immune system to attack the tumor and keep it from growing. (CREDIT: Cleveland Clinic)

The human immune system is adept at recognizing and eliminating foreign invaders like viruses. However, cancer poses a unique challenge, as cancerous cells originate from normal, healthy cells. Dr. Kumar explained, "All of the cells that become cancerous in your body came from normal, healthy cells. The difference is not big, so the immune system has a harder time recognizing a cancer cell and distinguishing it from a healthy cell."


To overcome this hurdle, the vaccine targets a lactation protein called α-lactalbumin, which is present in most triple-negative breast cancer patients but absent in normal, aging tissues after lactation. If breast cancer does develop, the vaccine instructs the immune system to attack the tumor and prevent its growth entirely. The results, according to Dr. Kumar, are "incredibly promising."

Research nurse coordinator Donna Lach administers the third dose of the breast cancer vaccine to Jennifer. (CREDIT: Cleveland Clinic)

The ultimate goal is to make this vaccine accessible to any woman seeking to prevent breast cancer. While there are still many steps to take, the potential impact is profound. Jennifer Davis, who played a pivotal role in the early stages of this groundbreaking research, remarked, "The bigger picture of this is overwhelming for me."


The next phase of the vaccine's development is set to begin in 2024, involving a significantly larger cohort of 600 women, compared to the initial trial's 16 participants. Half of these women will receive the vaccine, while the other half will receive a placebo. With the hope of obtaining FDA approval within five years, the researchers aspire to bring this promising vaccine one step closer to the public, potentially heralding a future free from the scourge of breast cancer.

For more science and technology stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by the The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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