Are Mice the Key to Unlocking a Vaccine Against Breast Cancer?

Scientists may have found a new way to protect high-risk individuals from developing breast cancer, a disease that will impact about 1 in 8 women in her lifetime.  According to recent news coverage, researchers from the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna and from the Medical University of Vienna have successfully tested a vaccine with artificial HER2 antigens.  HER2 proteins cause breast cancer tumors to grow and it is present at above normal levels in about 30% of breast tumors. Thanks to research with mice this new vaccine could be on its way to patients to prevent breast cancer.

The immune system does not attack mutated cancer cells.  However, artificial tumor antigens, otherwise known as mimotopes, can stimulate an immune response. Unfortunately, these mimotopes need to have a carrier to be effective and with past carriers the mimotopes have changed their structure, decreasing their effectiveness in the body.

Researchers have found the vaccine is much more effective if the HER2 mimotopes are paired with particles of a virus.  The viral particles are too small to cause disease but are enough to cause an aggressive immune response.  This immune response is associated with the mimotopes and the body then begins to attack breast cancer cells.  In mouse models, those vaccinated with the antigen were shielded at significant levels from growing tumors; while the control group developed the cancer.

This potential vaccine could protect people and those who have had breast cancer in the past.  And, in a surprising twist, it can also be used in man’s best friend.  The HER2 protein performs similar functions in human and canine breast cancer.  The research team found that the protein corresponds about 90% between dogs and people.

To read more about this new discovery, please click here.