March 3 is Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Day. Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a very aggressive form of the disease which makes up for 15 to 20 percent of all breast cancer cases. Pennsylvania researchers, like Refunds for Research grant winners Dr. Mauricio Reginato of Drexel University College of Medicine, Dr. Yanming Wang of Penn State University and Dr. Sandra Fernandez of Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals are just a few of the scientists in Pennsylvania working every day to find out what causes triple-negative breast cancer and what we need to cure it.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida will be conducting clinical trials on a vaccine they believe could prevent triple-negative breast cancer from coming back after a patient has been treated.
Here is the complete text from a recent USA Today article on the topic:
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A major breakthrough could be coming for patients who suffer from a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer commonly referred to as “triple negative.”
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville are planning to do clinical trials for a vaccine that would hopefully prevent the disease from coming back after a patient has been treated.
“Can we do something else to essentially wake up the immune system so that the patient’s own body fights any cancer cells remaining after standard chemotherapy treatment?” asked Dr. Edith Perez, lead researcher on the project at Mayo Clinic.
Triple-negative breast cancer, or TNBC, strikes 15 percent to 20 percent of breast cancer patients. Unlike most forms of breast cancer, it’s not fueled by estrogen and cannot be treated with estrogen blockers like Tamoxifen. Right now, the only treatment is chemotherapy and the disease, even when treated, is likely to come back and spread.
TNBC typically strikes younger patients than most other forms of breast cancer. It often occurs in women under 50. African-American and Hispanic women are also more likely to develop it as are women who have the BRCA1 gene mutations.
Donna Deegan, a WTLV- and WJXX-TV news anchor, is a three-time breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with the cancer at age 38.
“For women with triple negative breast cancer, if this works, it could be a game changer,” Deegan said.
Perez said that in the past, she was not optimistic about the chances for success of a breast cancer vaccine. However, that has now changed.
“Over the last year we spent quite a bit of time evaluating a protein that is called the folate receptor alpha protein. We studied it in a variety of tumor types here in the laboratory at Mayo and we identified that in approximately 80% of the cases of triple negative breast cancer, this protein was over-expressed.” said Dr. Perez. “Patients who will be eligible are those patients with resected or removed triple negative breast cancer whose tumors express this protein.”
Perez is one of the top breast cancer researchers in the world. She teamed with immunologist Dr. Keith Knutson to develop the vaccine. Knutson’s research has worked on treatments for both ovarian and breast cancer. Patients who are part of the trial will be treated over a six-month period.
Funding for this research comes from several sources, including money raised by a local marathon. Perez said it will take about $10 million to complete the vaccine clinical trial.
“I tell you, the marathon has been instrumental to all of this work we have done over the years because we didn’t have a genomics program here at Mayo Clinic before the marathon started. So we used the funds to start the program,” Perez said.