Women Who Care About Breast Cancer

Vincent K. Tuohy, PhD

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"We are proposing a fundamentally different way to control breast cancer by providing healthy, cancer-free women with preemptive immunity against the more virulent forms of the disease."

Dr. Vincent Tuohy is an immunologist at the Lerner Research Institute at the Cleveland Clinic - the second best hospital in the United States. Prior to working at the Cleveland Clinic, he was awarded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Society for Experimental Neuropathology and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health for his research efforts on the immune response occurring in human multiple sclerosis, a prototypic human autoimmune disease caused by an autoimmune attack against the patient’s own central nervous system.

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After recruitment to the Cleveland Clinic in 1989, Dr. Tuohy continued targeting the immune response against several tissue-specific self-proteins thereby developing autoimmune rodent models for a number of other human diseases. In 2002, Dr. Tuohy began to focus his research on the immune response to self-proteins that are over-expressed in adult-onset cancers but are no longer expressed with age in normal tissues. He proposed that these "retired" proteins may serve as useful vaccine targets for preventing cancers associated with aging, such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer.


Dr. Tuohy conducted trials in mice that develop breast cancer by vaccinating against a breast-specific protein that is often expressed in triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), the most aggressive and lethal form of breast cancer. The results were astounding, with 100% of the vaccinated mice being protected from breast cancer. The vaccine not only inhibited growth of established breast tumors, but also prevented new tumors from forming and did so without damaging normal tissues. Since the publication of this study, Dr. Tuohy has been raising funds in order to conduct human trials.

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"We could feasibly program the immune system in cancer-free adult women to protect against breast cancer in much the same way that childhood vaccination protects children from infectious diseases like polio and measles."

Information derived from The Lerner Research Institute of the Cleveland Clinic.

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Current Progress

Presently, Dr. Tuohy and his team are assembling their application to the FDA for the use of an Investigational New Drug (IND), namely the breast cancer vaccine for triple negative breast cancer, the most lethal form of breast cancer. Dr. Tuohy hopes to receive permission from the FDA by the end of 2019 thereby allowing his team to start vaccinating in a phase I clinical trial by early 2020. Meanwhile, Dr. Tuohy and his team is doing everything possible to ensure continued financial support for this Women's Health Initiative designed to prevent and treat triple negative breast cancer and epithelial ovarian carcinoma, both highly lethal malignancies that together kill over 55,000 American women yearly. Financial support is being sought from several sources including philanthropy, federal, state, and private foundation grants, and the corporate sector. Additionally, Dr. Tuohy is hoping to find people and organizations who would be able to facilitate the recruitment of African-American women for the upcoming phase I clinical trials on triple negative breast cancer. This is crucial because women of color have a much higher incidence of triple negative breast cancer than all other women.

Breast Cancer Vaccine - 2010 Sones Innovation Award

This video, created by the Cleveland Clinic, highlights the work of Dr. Tuohy.