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Cleveland doctor gets grant to start human clinical trials to test breast cancer vaccine

Posted at 3:26 PM, Oct 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-02 19:34:16-04

About one in every eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives.

Dr. Vincent Tuohy with the Lerner Research Institute at the Cleveland Clinic is working on a vaccine that could possibly make preventing breast cancer as easy as getting a shot.

Dr. Tuohy has been working on developing this breast cancer vaccine since 2002 by genetically modifying mice to get triple-negative breast cancer by the time they are ten months old. His research team vaccinates the mice at 2 months old and waits to see if the mice develop breast cancer by ten months.

“They didn't show any breast tumors (when they turned 10 months old),” he said. “We were very pleased with those results.”

He got the promising results seven years ago, but says he received lots of push back and skepticism.

“It was a new idea, a little too new,” he said. “A little too far out of the box.”

But Dr. Tuohy kept going, attributing his tenacity with what he calls stubbornness, something he says he got from his parents.

His vaccine contains a special protein to prevent triple-negative breast cancer, which can be hereditary and is the deadliest form of breast cancer.

His unique take is to tackle the cancer defensively, instead of offensively.

“The way we deal with cancer, we wait for it to happen,” said Tuohy. “Then, we beat the daylights out of it with surgery and chemotherapy and immunotherapy and hormone therapy and radiation therapy.”

His passion and tenacity paid off. Just last month, the Department of Defense awarded him a $6 million grant to hold human clinical trials.

While Dr. Tuohy is overjoyed by the news, his journey is far from over.

“This is the first attempt that we have at preventing just one form of breast cancer,” he said. “There are other forms of breast cancer that I think need to be prevented.”

In addition, Tuohy is working on developing a vaccine for ovarian cancer.