25 April 2012
A Breast Cancer Vaccine
Did you know that breast cancer is the second most common, and fatal, cancer in America? According to the National Cancer Institute website, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women, and the second largest killer of women in the United States (Common Cancer Types). Breast cancer can be defined as, “cancer that forms in tissues of the breast, usually the ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple) and lobules (glands that make milk)” (Breast Cancer). It is estimated that about 226,870 females and 2,190 males will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the year 2012, with 39,510 of those females and 410 males dying from this disease (Breast Cancer). Fortunately, scientists and researchers have created a possible breast cancer vaccine after many years of research that will decrease the risk of developing breast tumors in high risk patients. This paper will summarize the research of the new breast cancer vaccine, present different opinions on the discussion of this topic, and provide my own views on different opinions and progresses of this new breakthrough.
Mayo Clinic, one of the leading medical practices and medical research groups in the world, has a team of researchers that have been studying the science behind the new breast cancer vaccine. One of the leading researchers on this team and co-senior author on the study, Dr. Sandra Gendler, has been studying a certain molecule that is the target of the vaccine for over 25 years. This molecule, called MUC1, is a naturally occurring protein in the body that’s found on many cell surfaces, especially the cells lining body organs like the breast, lung, stomach, intestines, and reproductive tract. “Dr. Gendler describes MUC1 as ‘a protein similar to a bottle brush, covered with sugar’” states an article in Mayo Clinic’s online research magazine, “Discovery’s Edge” by Jim Barlow. “When cancer strikes, cell architecture collapses, more MUC1 with modified sugars are produced, and the protein becomes an antigen that sometimes triggers weak immune activity” quotes Barlow in his article. Once the architecture of the cell undergoes change, MUC1 is produced at high levels that promote tumor formation.
According to another article done on the research of Dr. Gendler and her Mayo Clinic team, the MUC1 protein has a unique, shorter set of carbohydrates that set it apart from healthy cells (Biology News: An Effective Breast Cancer Vaccine). In 2007, MUC1, with its abnormal sugars, appeared on more than 90 percent of breast cancers and was involved in around 70 percent of human breast cancer deaths. This tricky little protein was the perfect target for a possible new vaccine. But first, the Mayo Clinic research team had to test it out.
After reaching a heightened understanding of MUC1, Dr. Gendler and her team created a “line of mice” that developed tumors that overexpressed the MUC1 protein on the surface of their cells, just like humans (Biology News: An Effective Breast Cancer Vaccine). Because the MUC1 transgenic mice were able to express the protein, they also helped the research team to confirm that MUC1 is “oncogenic”, or tumor forming (Barlow). The mice also allowed the team to test the vaccines because the mice had functional immune systems. The idea behind the vaccine is simple. Once injected with the vaccine, the immune system is manipulated to believe that high levels of MUC1 are bad, and the immune response is directed to cells bearing the MUC1 proteins with shortened carbohydrates (Barlow). Fortunately, Gendler and her team are on the way to creating a vaccine that is safe for humans.
The breast cancer vaccine being created for humans involves three fully synthetic components: adjuvant, special synthetic peptides that trigger T-helper cells, and synthetic peptides that direct the immune response to cells bearing MUC1 proteins (Biology News: An Effective Breast Cancer Vaccine). The fact that the