UAMS Researchers Receive $2.9 Million to Study Novel Breast Cancer Vaccine

By todd

LITTLE ROCK —  Two researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ (UAMS) Arkansas Cancer Research Center (ACRC) have received a $2.9 million federal grant to study a new type of vaccine to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer.


Thomas Kieber-Emmons, Ph.D., the Josetta Wilkins Chair of Breast Cancer Research, and Laura Hutchins, M.D., director of the Division of Hematology and Oncology, were awarded the grant to study a carbohydrate-targeting vaccine shown to stimulate the killing of tumor cells. The UAMS proposal was the only one recommended for funding out of a national competition of 46 submissions.  Kieber-Emmons is the lead investigator.


“This grant is exciting not only for us at UAMS, but also for the state of Arkansas which has invested in bringing breast cancer research to the forefront with the Legislature passing the Breast Cancer Act of 1997,” Kieber-Emmons said. “We feel confident that the results of our research will provide a new and effective treatment for women at risk for having a recurrence of breast cancer. Through diagnosis and a combination of treatment options, our ACRC breast cancer team offers women the very best in breast cancer care.”


Although not previously tested in breast cancer patients, clinical studies have shown that the survival rate for persons with other types of cancer significantly correlates with the type of carbohydrate-targeting antibodies present in their body. It is believed that the introduction of these antibodies may also have a beneficial effect on reducing the recurrence of breast cancer in women previously diagnosed with the disease.


One important carbohydrate present on breast cancer cells is the Lewis Y (LeY) antigen. Antibodies to LeY have been shown to aid in killing breast cancer cells. Kieber-Emmons has developed a novel approach using mimics of carbohydrates present on breast cancer cells to optimize their beneficial effects.


“The vaccine is unique because of the fact that it mimics the target for an immune reaction on the breast cancer cells,” Hutchins said. “When the immune system is stimulated to react against the vaccine, it also attacks the cancer.”


The grant will fund all safety testing required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as a three-year clinical trial of high-risk breast cancer patients. It is expected that Hutchins will conduct the clinical trial on about 50 patients following the safety-testing phase. 


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, five centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has about 2,320 students and 690 medical residents. It is one of the state’s largest public employers with almost 9,000 employees, including nearly 1,000 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the VA Medical Center. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $4.4 billion a year.