One in eight women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. Each year, 22,000 will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. And, one man in 36 will die of prostate cancer.
Right now, we treat cancer once it shows up, but that could all change.
Tuohy is one of just a handful of researchers developing vaccines to prevent cancer.
"These are diseases that we think can be controlled not just by offense, not just by treatment, which is the current paradigm, but by defense," he said.
In the lab, he's come up with a way to prevent tumors by using retired proteins in the body. If the vaccine targets proteins that are no longer present in normal tissues but are present in tumors — tumors cannot grow. The body essentially becomes immune to the targeted cancer.
"It's immune software. It's a way of programming your immune system to protect you and keep you healthy," Tuohy explained. "What we want to do is increase our probability. We want to get the head start on these tumors."
The researchers are working on vaccines for prostate, breast, and ovarian cancers. The next step is to test the vaccines in humans, and if they work, prevention could be the key to stopping these cancers from even getting started.
Tuohy said he hopes to enroll patients in a phase one trial for testing a breast cancer vaccine in the next year or so. The vaccine would be injectable and would likely be tested eventually on women who are at a high-risk for developing breast cancer.