Cleveland Clinic doctor working on groundbreaking vaccine to prevent breast cancer

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - By the end of this year, over 40,000 more women will have died from breast cancer. Now imagine a world without the disease. It could be closer than you think. There is a groundbreaking vaccine that's been developed at the Cleveland Clinic, and it could prevent breast cancer from ever forming in women.

Toni Turchi was diagnosed in March 2011 with the most deadly form of breast cancer called 'triple negative.'

"Because it is a very aggressive form of the disease, I was in chemotherapy for five months, a double mastectomy followed that and them 35 rounds of radiation," said Turchi.

It's women like Toni on the mind of Cleveland Clinic Doctor Vincent Tuohy.

"It's so lethal, and it would be a good place to start in terms of a vaccine," said Dr. Tuohy.

For 15 years, Dr. Tuohy and his team have been working on a vaccine to prevent triple negative breast cancer. It works in mice and now it's ready to be tested in humans.

"We always think the way we should control cancer is by going on offense with surgery, chemotherapy radiation therapy hormone therapy," said Dr. Tuohy. "It's all offense and no defense, and I think in every human endeavor we need both offense and defense to work."

Aside from the cost, there are other barriers.

"All we want to know is, is this vaccine safe, what dose do we need and can we reach a dosage that is still safe," said Dr. Tuohy. "Do we vaccinate once, twice or three times, these are questions we have to ask and that should probably take the lions share of a year."

The next phase will be to vaccinate women who plan to have a double mastectomy after testing positive for the BRCA-1 gene mutation. Women who test positive have as much as an 86 percent chance of getting breast cancer, most often triple negative.

"Then after we vaccinate them, two months later, they have their breasts removed and we examine the breast for any inflammatory factors," said Dr. Tuohy.

After that, the vaccine will go to larger trials to see if it actually prevents the disease.

"So we're talking about ten years from now if we are lucky, we'll have a vaccine available for the general public to prevent triple negative breast cancer," said Dr. Tuohy.

The vaccine would work by using our own immune system to target protein.

"If a tumor emerges, the immune system sees the protein in that tumor and kills it and so that's what we're trying to do, it's an immunologic sleight of hand."

Turchi believes so strongly that Dr. Tuohy has a cure, she started raising money for his research. 

"I started a 501C3 called the Toni Turchi Foundation and I raised it for Dr. Tuohy but more than that I'm raising awareness," said Turchi.

To her it's getting more urgent every day.

"I've lost seven acquaintances in the past few years but one was a good friend, Christy Rose," said Turchi. "She was diagnosed with the exact same disease as myself including lymph node and Christy's body rejected all the chemotherapy so we lost her in 11 months; I'm still here and I wasn't supposed to be and I really believe that God intended to use me for something."

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