The discovery of the smallpox vaccine in 1796 essentially wiped out a disease with high fatality rates, and really, revolutionized the face of medicine at the time.
Keeping that in mind, I’m incredibly excited about the new reports out of the University of Georgia regarding a potential vaccine for cancer. Researchers said the vaccine could be ready in as little as three years after promising trial results.
The vaccine works by training the immune system to correctly identify cancer cells based on their sugar structures – and then destroy them. The vaccine first attacks the coating that surrounds cancers, and then kills the cells themselves.
In lab testing on mice, the vaccine worked on 90 percent of breast cancer cases. It was also particularly successful in killing pancreatic tumors.
Now, I know a lot of people think of vaccines as simply injecting the body with a disease in order to produce antibodies, but the real concept of a vaccine is using the body itself to kill diseases and infections.
This finding is huge and could open a lot of new doors in the biopharmaceutical field. Essentially, it could be a whole new prong of cancer treatment, alongside old standbys like chemotherapy and radiation - utilizing our own cells to shrink, and even eliminate, tumors.
I’m hopeful the clinical trials on humans will begin soon – the researchers estimate a 2013 start date – and they will be similarly successful.
Of course, over these next few years, it will also be important to monitor other factors, such as potential side effects and long-term survival rates, but my hopes are high that this will someday be an applicable treatment for all those cancer patients out there who currently face painfully limited choices.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.