Doctors in search of possible biological targets to develop breast cancer vaccine

The cancer of breasts is developing unabated across the globe amid hazardous lifestyle habits and lesser awareness. No proper treatment is available when the disease in its advanced stage. Even the mammograms which are advisable to women and men both to detect tumors in breast so as to understand its stage is also not popular among them in the light of less awareness.

In such a scenario, doctors are on the hunt for biological targets that could help them produce a breast cancer vaccine.

Researchers say, vaccines are typically developed only after knowing the clear targets such as a virus or bacteria that are required to be attacked by the vaccine to terminate the disease. Till today, scientists don’t even know what causes most breast cancers.

But researchers do know it’s possible for viruses to cause cancer, says James Gulley, a researcher at the National Cancer Institute who has worked on vaccines to treat prostate cancer.


The actual cause that leads to breast cancers is still unknown. Virus, called HMTV, or human mammary tumor virus, has been found in 40% of breast tumors. HMTV seems particularly common in a rare but often deadly form of breast cancer, called inflammatory breast cancer, according to a 2010 study in Cancer.  Gulley says, another virus HPV causes not only cervical tumors, but cancers of the head and neck, as well as the vulva, vagina, penis and anus. Moreover, Hepatitis B can cause liver cancer and the Epstein-Barr virus can lead to at least three types of lymphomas. Scientists don’t know if HMTV caused those cancers.

For doctors there are more questions than answers about the role infections might play in breast cancer.

In a bid to crack the mystery, the National Breast Cancer Coalition has organized a vaccine initiative called the Artemis Project. Seed grants will allow researchers to scour breast cancer genomes — the tumors’ entire collection of genes — to look for infectious microbes.

The Avon Foundation for Women has committed $6 million to learning whether infections contribute to breast cancer. Scientists will study 1,000 breast cancer samples whose genomes have been sequenced, looking for signs of viruses or bacteria.

Doctors from the Cleveland Clinic are taking a slightly different approach to developing a preventive vaccine, focusing on a protein expressed on cancer cells, but not healthy tissue, except during lactation. This research is in some of the earliest stages, and has been tested only on mice.

Other scientists are taking a related approach, testing treatment vaccines designed to prevent tumors from metastasizing, or spreading, to other organs, a condition that is fatal.

The doctors’ believe there approach will be result oriented and they will soon be able to develop vaccines for the deadly disease.



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