If you know anything about cancer, you may recall that one of the problems with treating it is finding drugs that can target the mechanisms of cancer. A key problem is that it is difficult to isolate cancer from healthy cells because cancer is actually part of our healthy cells. Medicine currently relies on drugs that affect the growth or breakdown of proteins or other cell mechanisms that influence the spread of cancer.
Cancer invades healthy cells and causes them to proliferate in chaos. It accelerates their growth, but the cells are still our own cells. This is different from other diseases that are caused by an organism, say, a virus, bacterium or parasite, that can be targeted and treated. Cancer treatment is a challenge because it cannot be isolated from healthy tissue, and so the most effective treatments, like chemotherapy, are also the most damaging to healthy cells. Only recently researchers found that some cancers, notably cervical and liver, were caused by viruses, which could be prevented by vaccinations, which are available now and have successfully reduced the incidence of those cancers. Vaccines are currently available for protecting against both HPV, the human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer, and hepatitis B virus, which causes the specific chronic liver cancer associated with that virus.
With breast cancer, however, the challenge, again, is that the disease is not separate from healthy tissue but part of it. One immunologist who has been targeting a breast cancer vaccine with his research is Dr. Vincent Tuohy at the Lerner Research Center, Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. In 2010 he and his colleagues published a study in the journal Nature Medicine. Their research has isolated a protein, a-lactalbumin, that is present in both tissue from lactating breasts and tissue from breast cancer tumors. A-lactalbumin does not occur in healthy breast tissue. Tuohy’s research centers on a vaccine that targets a-lactalbumin. The vaccine has proved so far to inhibit the development of breast cancer (in mice genetically predisposed to breast cancer) and, further, to inhibit the growth of existing tumors.
Maybe this will be one of the treatments that will put an end to breast cancer so that none of our younger generation will have to ever wear the badge of metastatic breast cancer.
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© 2004-2011 Donna Peach. All rights reserved.