Thursday, March 10, 2005

Getting Closer to a Breast Cancer Vaccine

Actually, I would wish that someone either came up with a better term than "cancer vaccine" or bothered to broaden the definition of "vaccine" a bit. As it stands, vaccine is defined as "a preparation of weakened or killed pathogen of of a portion of the pathogen's structure". Together with the common definition of pathogen as "agent that causes disease, especially a living microorganism such as a bacterium, virus or fungus" (both definitions from Dictionary.com, but they could just as well have been picked from my school books some years ago), I can easily think of situations where publicity around cancer vaccines will lead to a rather large number of people getting the idea that cancer is contagious. But since "vaccine" is a nice short word that people tend to know and have a generally positive view of, I can understand the will to use it for publicity and as a pedagogic tool. Ah, well, maybe I am too pessimistic about the level of calm, level-headed reasoning and extent of knowledge in natural sciences of my fellow human beings...

And anyhow, this post is supposed to be about a nice news release I found at EurekAlert about progress towards a vaccine to immunize high-risk people against breast cancer. The efforts of the research group in question seem to be focused on the protein mammaglobin-A expressed at high levels by many breast cancer tumours. It also present normally and involved in breast development (but supposedly not at such high levels). The mechanism is that vaccine-primed immune cells type T ("T cells") attack cells expressing mammaglobin-A antigens, which leads to shrinking tumours. Clinical trials are planned.

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