Researchers went to the U.S. Capitol Thursday to plead for more funding so that a breast cancer vaccine could be tested on humans. The doctors from Cleveland Clinic in Ohio say their vaccine has prevented cancer in laboratory mice, but they are unable to begin clinical trials on humans without another $6 million in federal money.
The World Health Organization says breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women. When it is in advanced stages, it can be difficult to cure. When there is remission, the cancer often recurs years later.
Research on a vaccine to prevent breast cancer has been unsuccessful, until now.
Recently scientists from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio announced they had stopped the growth of existing breast cancer tumors in a special group of mice bred to develop the disease.
Now Vincent Tuohy and his fellow researchers are asking the U.S. Congress for $6 million in funding to take their vaccine to the next stage: clinical trials on humans.
"The vaccine is designed to prevent breast cancer and it rouses, it focuses an immune response against a protein that is over expressed in the tumor - in breast tumors but not normally expressed in normal breast tissue or in any other tissue," said Vincent Tuohy.
The protein is called alpha-lactalbumin. It is found in the breast milk of healthy women who are either in late stages of pregnancy or are breast feeding. The only other time the protein is found is during the formation of breast cancer cells. The clinical trials would vaccinate women over 40 when they are at higher risk for breast cancer and at lower chance of pregnancy.
"Women at high risk for developing this disease we would like to target them first for protection," he said.
During the news conference in Washington, one member of Congress, a breast cancer survivor herself, pledged help in getting funding.
"Six million dollars is a drop in the bucket to take this research to the next level and make sure that we can take it to clinical trials in human beings," said U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
If the clinical trials are successful, Dr. Tuohy predicts the vaccine could be available in about 10 years.