Every year we are bombarded with reminders to get the flu vaccine. But what about a cancer vaccine? Could we actually get rid of the idea of curing existing cancers and simply prevent them from happinging? Scientists are currently working on this idea that targets two types of cancers. One of these types is cancers that are caused by infections. So far there has been some major success in this area. If the infection can be prevented, the resulting cancer can also be prevented. This is the case for HPV (Human papillomavirus) and the two FDA approved drugs Guardasil and Cervarix that have huge success in preventing strains of HPV that cause the majority of cervical cancer. There is still further work being done to prevent all strains of HPV, which could potentially eliminate cervical cancer as a result of this infection.
The other type of cancer, however, cannot be prevented as easily. These cancers, such as lung and colon cancer, are those that are not caused by an infection. To make a vaccine for such cancers, the same principles of the flu vaccine are used: teach the immune system to recognize the antigens displayed by the virus/cancer. In the case of cancers, certain proteins are specific to cancerous cells and can therefore be isolated and made into a potential vaccine that will train the immune system to be better protected against cells that display these proteins. This was successfully shown in an experiment with mice and breast cancer. A protein normally expressed during lactation was also found in breast-cancer cells, which were expressing this protein inappropriately. Mice that were vaccinated against this protein showed 100% protection against breast cancer. It is important to note that this vaccine must be administered before the growth of any tumor cells. While there was damage seen to breast tissue that would cause for concern for new mothers, the age at which 95% of breast cancer begins to appear is around 40, which is typically past the point of breast-feeding. This study seems very promising for the future of cancer prevention and the possibility of making a broad-spectrum vaccine against proteins expressed by various types of cancers.
A major problem in the progress of these vaccines is human studies and the cost these present. Even if these testing costs are overcome, the resulting vaccines will be extremely expensive and very likely out of the price range of most people. Despite the cost, however, these studies clearly show the progress we are making toward the future of a cancer-free world.
Posted by Marlena Grasso (2)