Editors' ChoiceCancer Vaccine

A Shot at Cancer Prevention

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Science Translational Medicine  04 Aug 2010:
Vol. 2, Issue 43, pp. 43ec123
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3001526

According to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a woman dies from breast cancer every 75 seconds worldwide. Yet, effective strategies are lacking for the prevention of this disease that routinely robs us of our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and friends. Cancer vaccines have the potential to effectively hinder tumor formation, but their development has been hampered by the fact that tumor antigens are often altered or overexpressed versions of proteins found in normal cells. Thus, vaccines directed at these so-called “self” proteins can generate an autoimmune response against normal tissue. This bottleneck has limited the use of cancer vaccines to those that have been designed specifically to target cancer-causing viruses. Now, Jaini et al. have successfully designed a novel vaccine with the added ability to prevent the formation of breast carcinomas.

The researchers constructed a vaccine that targets α-lactalbumin, a protein expressed by most breast tumors. This protein is also expressed in normal breast tissues only during lactation and is not expressed anywhere else in the body. A single injection of their α-lactalbumin vaccine effectively prevented spontaneous breast tumor formation in cancer-prone transgenic mice and inhibited the growth of established tumors. The α-lactalbumin vaccine also protected against tumor growth after inoculation of breast tumor cells into normal mice. Because α-lactalbumin is only expressed in normal breast tissues during lactation, this vaccine provides breast cancer prophylaxis without causing any detectable inflammation in normal, nonlactating breasts.

This study by Jaini et al. has introduced a new perspective in selecting targets for cancer vaccine development. Although it has been shown that human breast cancers also often express α-lactalbumin, the ability of this vaccine to induce an adequate immune response against human breast tumors has yet to be demonstrated. Clinical trials designed to evaluate the efficacy of the vaccine in women over 40 years of age—and, therefore, largely past the child-bearing phase of their lives—could begin as early as next year. Compared with the currently available cancer vaccines, the α-lactalbumin vaccine offers the possibility of preventing the de novo formation of breast carcinomas and therefore holds potential for decreasing the incidence of this pervasive disease.

R. Jaini et al., An autoimmune-mediated strategy for prophylactic breast cancer vaccination. Nat. Med. 16, 799–803 (2010). [Abstract]

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