Sep 292011
Authors: Maura Lerner McClatchy-Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — A few weeks ago, the Mayo Clinic made an intriguing announcement: One of its scientists had discovered a possible way to prevent ovarian and breast cancer with vaccines. And Mayo was ready to start testing them in people.

Within days, word had spread around the globe. Hundreds of women were suddenly vying for a few dozen spots in the clinical trials in Minnesota.

Keith Knutson, the lead scientist, wasn’t surprised: If his experiments pan out, they could signal a turning point in the battle against cancer.

The experiments, set to begin early next year in Rochester, are designed to see if the vaccines can prevent recurrences of ovarian and breast cancer in women who have survived earlier bouts.

As the search for a cure drags on, there’s a surge of interest in prevention, said Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition in Washington. “Without question, women are desperately looking for something new,’’ she said. “Keith is one of the people who is sort of leading the way.”

Knutson is among an elite group of scientists trying to attack cancer the way that their predecessors fought diseases like smallpox and measles.

“Ultimately,” he said, “we want to develop a vaccine that can actually prevent breast and ovarian cancer.”

Knutson, who has spent a dozen years on the project, says many women are understandably eager to take a chance on cancer vaccines, even experimental ones.

Cancer survivors, he says, “just feel like sitting ducks.” Long after treatment, they live in fear that the disease will return.

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