x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Clinic claims vaccine represents a breast cancer breakthrough

Scientists in America say they have developed a vaccine for breast cancer, a disease that kills four in every 10 people in the UAE who contract it.

Scientists in America say they have developed a vaccine for breast cancer, a disease that kills four in every 10 people in the UAE who contract it. A team from the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute are planning to conduct trials on humans as early as next year after the drug successfully prevented the cancer from developing in mice.

Breast cancer is the dominant form of cancer in the UAE with around 40 per cent of cases in the UAE proving fatal, due to late diagnosis. Dr Aladdin Maarraoui, the chief of haematology and oncology at Mafraq Hospital, said the prevalence of breast cancer in the UAE was causing some women to take extreme action. "Some choose to have mastectomies to prevent the cancer from developing at all," he said, adding that the vaccine was promising and would be well received.

Dr Mohamed Jaloudi, the chief of medical oncology at Tawam Hospital, said that although the vaccine would be good news for the UAE, he doubted it would be available in the near future. "It will be at least 10 years, if at all," he said. "To have a vaccine that will work against all kinds of breast tumours is unlikely." In the study, scientists from the clinic administered a drug, containing a-lactalbumin antigen, to half a group of genetically cancer-prone mice. The other half were given doses without the antigen. The latter all developed breast cancer, but none of the former group was affected.

Vaccines exist for other forms of cancer, including liver and cervical, but these target the viruses that cause those tumours, rather than the growths themselves. If the trials were successful, Dr Jaloudi said, the UAE would benefit greatly because of the country's high incidence of breast cancer fatalities. Breast cancer accounts for around 22 per cent of all cancers and seven out of 10 cases are not diagnosed until the late stages. A lack of routine screening and self-examinations are often blamed.

"We believe that this vaccine will someday be used to prevent breast cancer in adult women in the same way that vaccines have prevented many childhood diseases," said Dr Vincent Tuohy, the principal investigator of the trials in the US. "If it works in humans the way it works in mice, this will be monumental. We could eliminate breast cancer." Dr Tuohy, an immunologist, said the key was to find a part of the tumour that does not occur naturally in the body. A-lactalbumin is a protein found in the majority of breast cancer cases. It occurs naturally in healthy women only when they are lactating.

The treatment would probably be used to vaccinate women older than 40 years. The average age when a woman in the UAE develops breast cancer is 48, according to a five-year study by Mafraq Hospital - eight years younger than in the West. munderwood@thenational.ae