Chile Developing Vaccine to Stop Breast Cancer
SANTIAGO — Between 3,000 and 4,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed every year in Chile, with almost 1,200 women losing their lives to breast cancer each year. Statistics predict that by 2030 these numbers will double in Latin America.
Due to this, a group of scientists from the University of Santiago are developing an effective and low-cost treatment in the hope to help aggressive cancer cases. It is a vaccine that will reinforce the immune system using extracts from the carcinogenic cells themselves. The therapy will consist of this vaccine plus two other medicines. This combination will help the immune system recognize the tumor, locate it, and efficiently attack it.
The scientists have been working together at the Barros Luco Hospital. The institution will give patients access to biopsies in order to acquire the necessary samples of carcinogenic cells to be inoculated as part of the study. These samples will be acquired by an innovative technique that has yet to be patented.
“We don’t know whether the therapy can eliminate the cancer. However, we believe that it can extend and improve the quality of life for patients who have been already diagnosed,” explained Ximena Lopez, a biochemist at the University of Santiago.
Towards the end of the year, when the clinical studies begin, the vaccine will be tested on Chilean patients. The investigation won a grant from Fondef (Scientific and Technological Development Fund) of 20 million Chilean pesos (around US$40,000) to develop the therapy in the next ten months.
According to Lopez, the objective of the therapy is to help patients with cancer in a more advanced stage, and those who suffer from the most aggressive form of it.
So far, the tests have had positive results. In the tests carried out in animals, only 50 percent of them developed the disease, and the other half continued to be healthy 70 days after the shots. “This shows that there is a response in the immune system. Patients suffering from breast cancer should benefit similarly, which should stop the growth of the tumor and prevent it from spreading to vital organs,” said Lopez.
This is not the first vaccine created in Chile to treat advanced cancers. A vaccine against melanoma created by scientists at the University of Chile extends the life expectancy of those patients by nearly two years. This group is currently working to develop vaccines against breast and prostate cancer.