Targeting cancer before it strikes

New vaccines that may one day keep cancer from developing

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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CLEVELAND, Ohio - One in eight women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. Each year, 22,000 will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. And, one man in 36 will die of prostate cancer. Right now we treat cancer once it shows up. But that could all change.

"We've known for over 100 years that our immune system can protect us from cancer," said Vincent Tuohy, PhD, Immunologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

Tuohy is one of just a handful of researchers developing vaccines to prevent cancer.

"These are diseases that we think can be controlled not just by offense, not just by treatment, which is the current paradigm, but by defense," he said.

In the lab, he's come up with a way to prevent tumors by using retired proteins in the body. If the vaccine targets proteins that are no longer present in normal tissues but are present in tumors — tumors cannot grow. The body essentially becomes immune to the targeted cancer.

"It's immune software. It's a way of programming your immune system to protect you and keep you healthy," Tuohy explained. "What we want to do is increase our probability. We want to get the head start on these tumors." 

The researchers are working on vaccines for prostate, breast, and ovarian cancers. The next step is to test the vaccines in humans, and if they work, prevention could be the key to stopping these cancers from even getting started.

Tuohy says he hopes to enroll patients in a phase one trial for testing a breast cancer vaccine in the next year or so. The vaccine would be injectable and would likely be tested eventually on women who are at a high-risk for developing breast cancer.

Additional Information:

Cancer is one of the deadliest and most common diseases. Cancer develops when damaged cells rapidly divide and multiply, which can form lumps or tumors. These masses often affect circulatory, nervous, and digestive systems, disrupting the functioning of these systems. Signs and symptoms will vary depending on where the cancer is. Treatment will also depend on the location of the cancer and the severity of the disease.  (Source: and

TUMORS: A tumor, known as neoplasm, is an irregular mass of cells that are classified as benign, pre-malignant, or malignant. A benign tumor is a non-cancerous mass that cannot spread throughout the body. Pre-malignant tumors are often known as pre-cancerous tumors, meaning there is a good chance that they will develop into cancer cells. A malignant tumor is a cancer tumor that grows and makes the cancer worse. In some cases, these tumors cause fatalities in patients with very little notice. These types of tumors are known to spread and multiply at a quicker rate than other cells. (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic are using an idea called the retired protein hypothesis to hopefully one day be able to develop a preventative vaccine for breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers. Essentially, the retired protein hypothesis uses our body's own immune system to attack tumors and cancerous cells. As we age, certain proteins in our body stop being expressed in normal tissue. But if a tumor develops, the proteins will be expressed in those. Researchers are hoping a vaccine can help aim our body's natural defensive mechanisms to target these proteins, which are no longer present in healthy tissue but only in cancerous tissue. Doctors have been working for 11 years on research and development, and according to Dr. Vincent Tuohy, have done nearly all of the animal research they need, and are moving on to pre-clinical testing soon. (Source: Dr. Vincent Tuohy)

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