Doctors working on cancer vaccine

ST. LOUIS - A St. Louis tradition returns next Saturday. Thousands of you will run or walk in the Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure to help find a cure for breast cancer.

What might surprise you is how close that cure is, and how much of the work to find one is going on right here in St. Louis.

It happens just one Saturday in June. Breast cancer survivors, their friends and families come together to run and walk to put an end to the disease. What happens at the run/walk is directly tied to what happens in a local sixth floor lab in one of the many medical buildings at Washington University School of Medicine. Doctors are working to find that long-talked about cure for breast cancer.

"Specifically we're trying to develop personalized breast cancer vaccines," said Dr. William Gillanders.

The vaccines will be custom-made for each patient. Like other immune therapy, this one will be given as a series of injections. They will equip a person's immune system to fight off the genetic mutations that led to the cancer in the first place.

"That's the way cancer vaccines work, they generate these killer t-cells that can search out a find the tumor cells and kill the tumor cells," said Gillanders.

A similar type of immune therapy has just been successfully used in patients with cervical cancer.

Work on this cure, including tests like this one that examines cells to see their vaccine response, is paid for in part by money raised at Komen races held all across the country. So far, Komen has given a PROMISE grant of $6.5 million to Gillanders and his colleagues in their work to understand what really makes each patient's breast cancer unique.

"Instead of treating patients in the future with surgery and then chemotherapy maybe in the future we'll treat them with surgery and immunotherapy," said Gillanders.

When this vaccine therapy is ready for testing in humans in about a year, it will be given to just a small subset of patients at high risk for their cancer coming back. But one day, a vaccine could be available to all breast cancer patients.

"We expect like many cancer vaccines that this will be incredibly safe and have very few side effects," said Gillanders.

That's another reason scientists, doctors and the Komen foundation are so excited about this targeted therapy.

Join us Saturday, June 14 for the 2014 Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure. For information about registering, visit our special Race for the Cure section.


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