last updated April 2013
Moving towards a breast cancer vaccine
Carbohydrate-based compounds possess useful properties as immune system targets for therapeutics
A Taiwanese research group has found that the carbohydrate compound Globo H and its precursors show potential as antigens for the development of a vaccine against breast cancer, but further work is needed to assess whether such a carbohydrate vaccine is indeed effective. The group, led by researchers from the Academia Sinica in Taipei, was particularly interested in whether the vaccine could target breast cancer stem cells (BCSCs), which are associated with maintaining and spreading tumors.
The group tested for the presence of Globo H and its precursor stage-specific embryonic antigen 3 (SSEA3) in stem cells and non-stem cells taken from the breast cancer tumors of 53 patients. The results are provided in a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1. Although Globo H was present in 61% of tumors, only 20% of BCSCs carried it. SSEA3, however, was present in 77.5% of tumors and 62.5% of BCSCs.
The group demonstrated that a vaccine against Globo H was effective in generating antibodies against both compounds in mice. In normal, non-cancerous tissue both compounds are restricted to small regions isolated from the immune system, the researchers found, so such a vaccine would cause little collateral damage.