The vaccine, in development at the Mayo Clinic, would harness immune-system cells to prevent a recurrence of HER2 breast cancer.

By Jessica Migala
October 19, 2018

Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is scary and devastating, but one new potential treatment is delivering a lot of hope today: a vaccine to prevent a certain type of breast cancer from recurring. 

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Florida are developing an anti-cancer vaccine for a type of aggressive breast cancer called Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2 (HER2). The researchers just announced that they received a grant of $11 million from the Department of Defense to continue trials.

.HER2-positive breast cancers have higher levels of the HER2 protein, which promotes cancer growth. These cancers are fast-developing and quick to spread, according to the American Cancer Society. About 30% of breast cancers are HER2 positive. After receiving a diagnosis, a patient usually receives HER2-targeted drugs to help her body fight the cancer.

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The potentially lifesaving vaccine is intended to treat women with existing HER2 cancer to prevent recurrence (versus preventing an initial diagnosis). The vaccine would be used in combination with the immune-stimulating drug Trastuzumab, which activates the body’s B-cells to conduct a sort of search-and-destroy mission for HER2 proteins on breast tumor cells, the Mayo Clinic explained in a statement.

The new vaccine is making researchers and breast cancer activists feel hopeful. HER2 cancers are more likely to come back than HER2-negative cancers, and if this type of cancer recurs and spreads to other parts of the body, it's especially hard to treat. But the addition of the vaccine to the typical treatment protocol could help stimulate immune system T-cells to promote resistance to HER2 proteins, so the cancer doesn’t return.

"The vaccine provides a prevention strategy to deter cancer reformation," Keith Knutson, PhD, a Mayo Clinic immunologist who is principal investigator of the study said in the statement. "The body's T-cells and B-cells synergize with each other for a strong, durable, immune response."

In the next phase of research, they’ll test how long the vaccine may last and who may benefit from treatment. No doubt, this may be a true turning point in the ongoing battle against breast cancer.

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