Local Doctor Creating Breast Cancer Vaccine - Philadelphia News, Weather and Sports from WTXF FOX 29

Local Doctor Creating Breast Cancer Vaccine

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PHILADELPHIA -

A vaccine for cancer?

Right now, a doctor from our area is creating a vaccine to stop breast cancer from coming back. Karen Hepp spoke with women who are getting it right now and who think it will save their lives.

Cancer Fighter Jackie Peterson explains just what if feels like to go through a life threatening battle: "Cancer is frightening, you're terrified. Cancer means it can be other places. Cancer means you are going to die."

Peterson couldn't believe it when she got her diagnosis of stage-three breast cancer. She's an operating nurse who helps cancer patients, but that didn't make it one bit easier.

"You don't think it's going to happen to you. Breast cancer is something I take care of, not that I get," said Peterson.

But, she did. Six months of chemo and a mastectomy later, she wants to make sure it never comes back. Now she's patient number one in a new trial of a cancer vaccine to prevent recurrence.

"I'm number one, Am I afraid of being number one? No. It's an amazing treatment; they're using my white blood cells to make a serum," said Peterson.

Dr. Brian Czerniecki is developing the cancer vaccine. He says it works by priming the immune system to attack cancer like it's an infection. In the first two trials, the results were dramatic.

"We can actually see tumors dying. We can actually see the ducts look like ghosts from where the tumor cells were and the ducts are becoming scars. You can actually see in about twenty percent of patients there's actually no disease that we can even see, as a result of vaccination," said Czerniecki.

Patients like Deb Hunter are disease free and hoping to stay that way. She'll never forget the dreaded phone call.

"The office's response was ‘the doctor would like to see you, can you come in this afternoon?' That was the heart dropping ‘oh my gosh', I'm just starting my life this can't happen to me," said Hunter.

"I went to see her [the doctor]. She gave me the news DCIS Stage 0, which sounds wonderful now, but at the time it didn't matter, because I had cancer," said Hunter.

And she was not given many choices. Deb says, time and again she was told that the protocol is radiation and tamoxofin.

"I wasn't feeling good about that. I said ‘why aren't there better options for women?'" said Hunter.

She kept searching and heard about Dr. Czernicki's trials. For the past 7 years he's been studying women with her type of early stage cancer called DCIS, abnormal cells in the milk ducts. He creates a personalized vaccine from the patient's own cells.

"A patient gives us some of their white blood cells that are circulating around in their blood stream. We have learned in the lab how to turn them into potent antigen preventing cells. These white cells that we take and we activate their going to go teach the rest of their immune response how to go after that tumor," said Czerniecki.

Dr. Czerniecki thinks we're on the verge of treatment and prevention for many patients.

"I'm really excited; I know I can't do this on my own. I know that if I stay the way I am I could redevelop very easily. My mother died from breast cancer and I don't want to follow my mom," said Peterson.

I feel like I'm changing the world. I have nieces in their 20's and I feel like I'm doing it for them and for women who need another choice, said Hunter.

Right now, the vaccine is still just in trials. Two new ones have just opened for breast cancer. Eventually, Dr. Czerniecki is hoping the approach can be used to prevent or treat other cancers as well in the future.

For more information on "Pennies in Action," click here.

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