Breast cancer vaccine success stirs controversy

An experimental breast cancer vaccine being advanced by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic has been in the media spotlight for much of the week.

Inside the center ring is immunologist Vincent Tuohy, who determined that a vaccine targeting the protein alpha-lactalbumin found on the surface of cancer cells effectively protected mice engineered to develop breast cancer.

Tuohy didn't hesitate to draw a short line between success in mice and the potential for a new vaccine that could protect women from a dread and common disease.  "We believe that this vaccine will someday be used to prevent breast cancer in adult women in the same way that vaccines have prevented many childhood diseases. If it works in humans the way it works in mice, this will be monumental. We could eliminate breast cancer."

But a host of other specialists in the field were only too happy to point out that doctors have cured cancer in mice a number of times.

"We've been curing breast cancer in mice for years with drugs that turn out not to be remotely useful for humans," Barbara Brenner, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, tells USA Today. "Why would we expect a 'vaccine' to be any better, based on a mouse study?"  

- here's the story from the BBC
- here's the report from USA Today