We know that vaccines have the power to prevent deadly diseases, but could they also prevent cancers from recurring? In a small but promising pilot study, Baylor researchers are investigating whether a vaccine made from a patient’s own immune cells could help prevent breast cancer recurrences in women at high risk.
Plan of Attack
The vaccine is made by teaching patient’s cells to recognize certain proteins in the tumor, explains Maren Levin, MS, research project coordinator.
“When we inject the cells back into the patients, the cells will hopefully attach to the tumor, and keep it from growing back,” Levin says.
Bench researcher Karolina Palucka, MD, PhD, director of the Ralph Steinman Center for Cancer Vaccines at the Baylor Institute for Immunology Research, and clinical researcher Joyce O’Shaughnessy, MD, Celebrating Women chair of breast cancer research at the Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, have combined their respective immunological and patient expertise for this potentially groundbreaking study.
“The vaccine could help counteract the negative effects of the immune system that exist in this type of breast cancer and unleash its powerful, positive effects to improve the success of standard treatments,” Dr. O’Shaughnessy says.
A Fighting Chance
Participants in the study will receive a series of seven vaccines during the course of their breast cancer treatment—which includes preoperative chemotherapy, surgery and six weeks of radiation—and then have follow-up visits every three months for three years.
“Our hope is that the patients who receive the vaccine will have no adverse effects and experience a lower rate of breast cancer recurrence as compared to historical data from patients who don’t,” Dr. Palucka says.
In addition, half of the patients in the study will also receive anakinra, an adult rheumatoid arthritis medication. Researchers hope that the medication will reduce inflammation, allowing the vaccine and chemotherapy to work together even more effectively.
Though results won’t be available for a few years, Dr. Palucka says that she is excited about the potential for the vaccine.
“It has taken us several years to get to this point,” she says. “If this treatment works like we think it will, it will offer great hope to patients with this type of aggressive breast cancer.”