Imagine no need for pink ribbons or mammograms or surgery or chemotherapy.
We vaccinate our children to prevent diseases that used to kill or paralyze like polio, diphtheria, measles, meningitis and whooping cough.
There is a vaccine that prevents the majority of cases of cervical cancer, so why not breast cancer?
In a special Maureen's Medical Moment we look at the question behind the research of Cleveland Clinic Immunologist, Vincent Tuohy who two years ago, after ten years of research, developed what may very well be the world's very first breast cancer vaccine.
Dr. Tuohy says the vaccine would be used in women once they have completed their family.
The Tuohy Vaccine is currently on a shelf at the Cleveland Clinic awaiting clinical trials in women. Funding is the reason those trials have not moved forward.
Dr, Kathleen Ruddy, a cancer surgeon trained at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York City and now with St. Barnabas Healthcare System in New Jersey with 6000 patients in her practice, has seen a lot of breast cancer. She watched her mother battled the disease.
Taking a sabbatical in 2007 she completed her International Masters Degree for Health Leadership which took her around the world giving her a different perspective on how we might better approach the problem of breast cancer, asking the question, "Does a virus cause breast cancer in women?"
She's hosted two summits on Capitol Hill and believes we are one step away from proving the case regarding a viral cause for breast cancer.
She also made a documentary film, nominated for Best Film of the Year by Re-Think Breast Cancer, called, "It's Time to Answer the Question: Does a virus cause breast cancer in women.?
Dr. Ruddy also heard about the Tuohy Vaccine at the Cleveland Clinic and is working to get support behind funding.
In a recent interview, Dr. Tuohy talked about the need to stop breast cancer before it starts. "We have no vaccination program for adults and I find this an enormous deficiency in our healthcare. We have no immune protection from disease that we confront with age, like breast cancer."
And after ten years of research, on three different mice models, Dr. Tuohy and Dr. Ruddy believe he has found a vaccine that could mean women would no longer need mammograms or pink ribbons or a special month.
Dr. Tuohy said of his research, "We have an animal model that 100 percent of the females develop breast cancer. When we vaccinated those animals at two months of age we found that none of the mice that received the vaccine, none of them developed any tumors by the ten month period."
Dr. Ruddy adds, "We have something the Cleveland Clinic has developed. The world's first preventative breast cancer vaccine which is 100 % effective in preventing breast cancer in three animal models. And it's time to see if the vaccine is safe, and if safe, is effective in women."
So what is holding the vaccine up? Money.
Dr. Ruddy said Susan G. Komen has turned down three requests for funding, Avon will not even consider a request and the Department of Defense has also rejected requests.
Dr. Ruddy is also frustrated that months after news of Dr. Tuohy's vaccine, the National Breast Cancer Coalition, through the Artemis Project, announced they will begin to work on a breast cancer vaccine with a goal of 2020,
"They decided about four to five months after the Cleveland Clinic published the news of its first preventative breast cancer vaccine that they were going to do the same thing."
With Dr. Tuohy's research taking 10 years and only funding holding back clinical trials, Ruddy said time, and possibly lives are being lost.
Judy Fitzgerald, a Rhode Island wife and mother of two college graduates, and bi-lateral breast cancer survivor, who underwent a double mastectomy but was unable to have chemo, was looking into preventative ways to keep her cancer from returning.
She told us she was stunned when she heard a vaccine had been developed, "I was on the computer one day and Dr. Tuohy's vaccine had just been recognized. I thought I was seeing things, I thought this cannot possibly be true that there's a vaccine that could prevent breast cancer."
Fitzgerald got involved in a big way.
She started a grass roots effort to raise the $6 million needed to fund the first round of clinical trials in women.
Founding the Sisters4Prevention campaign, all the money raised on her website, Sisters4prevention.com, which is also now on the Cleveland Clinic website, goes toward funding human testing on the Tuohy vaccine.
Fitzgerald did not stop there. The former science teacher kept a journal, publishing the book: A Teacher's Journey: What Breast Cancer taught me.
All the money from her book also goes to Dr. Tuohy's vaccine.
She says her goal is to prevent women in the future from getting her diagnosis, "I honestly would be the first one to volunteer should he need me to do so, that's how convinced I am."
So how convinced is Dr. Tuohy, who spent ten years on research, "I'm an old lab rat and the fact is that at the heart of the issue, I just want to know if what I've done works. The fact is, I don't know if it would work, that is the truth."
But he continues, "I think this has a good chance. As a parent I think we have the responsibility to protect our children, so I see this as a good way for me to protect my children and grandchildren."
Our best chance, Doctor's Tuohy and Ruddy believe, to end a disease that still strikes 1 in 8 women in their lifetime and still kills 1 in 36.
Ruddy says, "We could really put an end to this in the same way that we have pretty much put an end to diseases like polio." Tuohy adds, "It looks safe, why shouldn't we test it? What reason would we have not too?"
And that answer, like much research, may come down to money.
While no major donors have come forward to fund the $6 million needed to start human trials, Judy Fitzgerald's grass roots effort, along with Doctor Ruddy's involvement, has brought a lot of attention and some donations toward the Tuohy vaccine.
And if the money can not be used in the U.S. Dr. Tuohy confirmed for me that there are other entities interested in the vaccine, including China.
He said as a scientist, he just wants the vaccine out there and tested so that we can prevent breast cancer in future generations.
Any donations from Fitzgerald's book - T-shirts or monetary - go directly to funding the Tuohy Vaccine.
Fitzgerald is also encouraging young people, who could really benefit from this vaccine, to hold a sit-in this month and become part of the "Champions for Pink Vaccine" campaign.
She is hoping college students, including her son's alma mater, Notre Dame, will choose a day in October to host a sit-in. You can find all Fitzgerald's information, including about her book, A Teacher's Journey: What Breast Cancer Tought Me, below in the links for this story.
You can also find a link to Dr. Ruddy's Documentary, "It's time to answer the question: Does a virus cause breast cancer in women?".
Also, the fall/winter issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine has important information on preventing and finding breast cancer.
If you would like to read my full interview with Dr. Vincent Tuohy's regarding his research you can find that at the top of this story.
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