JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CBS Local) — Doctors say a new vaccine undergoing clinical trials at the Mayo Clinic has effectively removed cancer cells, providing new hope for cancer survivors. Lee Mercker was the first to participate in the clinical trial. In March, she was shocked to learn she had breast cancer.
"I'm an exercise fanatic, I eat right," she told First Coast News. "But it just can knock on anybody's door."
Mercker said she was told she had "DCIS stage zero" breast cancer, which meant the cancer cells in the ducts of her breasts had not yet spread.
That left her with three options — the traditional route of surgically removing the cancer cells, surgery to remove her breasts or join a clinical trial for a vaccine that could prevent the cancer cells from coming back.
"I signed on the dotted line that day," Mercker said.
"It's supposed to stimulate a patient's own immune response so that the immune cells like T cells would go in and attack the cancer," she said.
Mercker said the 12-week process worked.
"They always took your blood, you had a physical, they'd make your shot right there on the spot for you," Mercker said. "It was three shots, all in a row, alternating arms, four shots, two weeks apart."
As part of the trial, Mercker still had to have a mastectomy.
"That is the only way we know that everything was removed properly," Dr. Chumsri said. In addition, researchers were able to study the removed breast tissue to assess how well the vaccine works. Eventually, it's hoped the vaccine can prevent cancer entirely.
"It's supposed to be just off the shelf, kind of similar to when you get the flu shot or pneumonia shot," Chumsri said.
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