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UGA and Mayo Close to a Cancer Vaccine

Kristen Griffin brings a fresh perspective to news and blog content for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

Kristen Griffin

December 17, 2011

Athens, Georgia - Collaboration between the University of Georgia in Athens and the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona resulted in a startling new discovery in the ongoing war on cancer – a possible cancer vaccine.

Conducted with specialized laboratory mice, the vaccine has shown to shrink cancerous pancreatic and breast cancer tumors in the mice by nearly 80%. One of the major issues in the ongoing battle with cancer is the body’s own immune system. Often, the immune system – the body’s natural defense system – does not recognize the cancerous cells and lets these cells grow, multiply and mutate.

Further, the main difference between healthy, normal cells and cancerous cells is a protein MUC1. This sugar-based protein is prevalent in the majority of cancers.

“This is the first time that a vaccine has been developed that trains the immune system to distinguish and kill cancer cells based on their different sugar structures on proteins such as MUC1,” said Professor Sandra Gendler, a Mayo Clinic researcher.

Though the study’s parameters stretched as far as looking at the possible implications for breast cancer and pancreatic cancer, the research results have a much wider net. Since nearly 70% of all devastating cancers possess this MUC1 protein – which the vaccine proves effective against – there is new hope for people afflicted with a wide variety of cancers, including mesothelioma.

Attacking the protective lining surrounding the lungs, heart or abdominal cavity, no variations of mesothelioma currently have a cure or an especially prolonged prognosis. Majority of mesothelioma diagnoses are a result from long-term and consistent exposure to asbestos particles.

According to research from the National Research Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases at the Western Australian Institute of Medical Research, MUC1 is present in malignant mesothelioma cancer cells.

In addition, the cancer vaccine shows promise for people with hard-to-treat and untreatable cancers, because in most of these cases, the MUC1 protein is working in overdrive. For people with mesothelioma – one of the top most difficult cancers to treat – this additional result may, in fact, be life saving.

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