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Imagine if something could teach your body to seek out and destroy cancer cells as they develop!

As we often hear, enormous progress has been made in breast cancer treatment – yet up to 40% of people diagnosed with breast cancer still relapse and die from the disease. It affects women and men in the prime of their lives, and their children. We need to do better.

Climb for Hope raises funds to support the development of a completely new way to treat breast cancer. Most treatments target the cancer directly, but a breast cancer vaccine changes the way your body sees and reacts to the cancer. Since cancer cells come from your own tissues, your immune system recognizes it as you. This study is using a vaccine to re-program your immune system to recognize cancer cells as a foreign enemy, and a target for destruction.

Typically, you think of a vaccine for disease prevention. This research uses vaccines as one tool to treat cancer; the vaccines have to be combined with other drugs so that you can get the best direct treatment effect and the best immune effect simultaneously. The research translates important observations from the laboratory to the patient bedside. The funds raised by climbers help Dr. Emens conduct the clinical research—it would be impossible without this key grass roots support.

This study maintains a strong focus on Stage IV breast cancer, which remains incurable and understudied.

What Climb for Hope Funding Supports

Thanks to support from Climb for Hope, substantial progress has been made in the clinical breast cancer vaccine trials. Climb for Hope can make a difference in expensive research like this by helping to:

  • Pay for the vaccine; traditional research grants will not pay for this part of the research, and it is getting harder to find funds that will.
  • Hire support personnel for clinical trials that traditional research grants will not stretch far enough to do…this is even more important now when research funding is down, and regulatory oversight is more complex.
  • Conduct pilot studies in the laboratory, generating preliminary data to obtain research grants. This is crucial in order to successfully compete for research funding when monies are very tight.
  • Get the word out about the impact of breast cancer on women, men, and their families.
  • Give hope to patients struggling with breast cancer, especially those participating in the vaccine trials.

Tangible Research Accomplishments

  • Dr. Emens and her team completed the first clinical trial combining the breast cancer vaccine with very low doses of chemotherapy in 28 patients with Stage IV breast cancer. They learned that the vaccine is safe and bioactive, and it produces new immune responses to breast cancer.
  • Vaccine testing continues in combination with low dose chemotherapy and Trastuzumab, a drug for HER-2+ breast cancer that is the single largest advance in breast cancer treatment in the last 50 years.
  • A clinical trial just launched that will use the vaccine after standard treatment for early breast cancer. Here, the vaccine may be an extra insurance policy to ensure that the cancer will not return in an incurable stage. This is where vaccines have their greatest potential in cancer treatment.
  • The research is using the blood from vaccinated patients to determine what it reacts to. This target discovery could lead to the development of the next powerful drug for breast cancer treatment.
Thank you very much for your commitment and support! Please know that it makes a real difference in many ways every day. It is only by banding together that we will be able to defeat this disease, and create a world free from breast cancer. Leisha A. Emens, M.D., Ph.D., is a medical oncologist at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Johns Hopkins University