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Cleveland Clinic: First Patient to Receive Breast Cancer Vaccine Shares Health Journey

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The vaccine targets a lactation protein called α-lactalbumin, which is no longer found after lactation in normal, aging tissues but is present in most triple-negative breast cancers. If breast cancer develops, the vaccine is designed to prompt the immune system to attack the tumor and keep it from growing. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

#USA, April 17, 2023 – During a typical day at work, Jennifer Davis received an unexpected call that changed her life. A nurse on the other end of the line delivered the news Jennifer had triple-negative breast cancer. The mother of three recalls feeling terrified. She didn’t know how she was going to tell her family. After receiving the diagnosis, Jennifer knew she wanted to take advantage of every treatment option available. Through her driven search for answers, she became the first person to participate in a novel study at Cleveland Clinic for a vaccine that aims to eventually prevent triple-negative breast cancer.

“When I found out I was the first person to receive the vaccine, I was excited. I was thrilled. The trial has given me a lot of hope,” says Jennifer, a registered nurse from Lisbon, Ohio.  

Jennifer’s health journey started in February 2018 when she felt a lump in her breast. She went to a local hospital for follow-up, and her first biopsy showed no evidence of cancer. Months went by, and Jennifer says the lump grew. She listened to her body and continued to get it checked. Jennifer eventually received another biopsy after doctors detected abnormalities during an ultrasound. Her diagnosis was confirmed about one week later, and she sought a second opinion for her treatment.  

“I knew I wanted to go to Cleveland Clinic, so I had my first appointment there shortly after. I met my entire care team within my first few appointments and had a complete treatment plan. I was very happy with my team and was anxious to get started,” says Jennifer.  

As part of the plan, she underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. She also had a double mastectomy performed by breast surgeon Zahraa AlHilli, MD.  

“After the double mastectomy, I was adamant while in recovery about wanting to know what they found and whether the cancer had spread. Dr. AlHilli was able to get clear margins, and there were no signs the cancer had spread anywhere else,” says Jennifer.  

After undergoing treatment, it was during her follow-up appointments with breast medical oncologist Megan Kruse, MD, she learned about the breast cancer vaccine clinical trial.  

The vaccine is based on pre-clinical research led by the late Vincent Tuohy, PhD, who was the Mort and Iris November Distinguished Chair in Innovative Breast Cancer Research at Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute. The vaccine targets a lactation protein called α-lactalbumin, which is no longer found after lactation in normal, aging tissues but is present in most triple-negative breast cancers. If breast cancer develops, the vaccine is designed to prompt the immune system to attack the tumor and keep it from growing.  

Research nurse coordinator Donna Lach administers the third dose of the breast cancer vaccine to Jennifer. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

“Triple-negative breast cancer is the form of the disease for which we have the least effective treatments,” said G. Thomas Budd, MD, breast medical oncologist and principal investigator for the breast cancer vaccine trial. “Long term, we are hoping this can be a true preventive vaccine that would be administered to cancer-free individuals to prevent them from developing this highly aggressive disease.”  

Jennifer is involved in phase 1a of the study, which includes patients who completed treatment for early-stage, triple-negative breast cancer within the past three years and are currently tumor-free but at high risk for recurrence.  

“There is no medication I take to make sure there’s not a recurrence,” says Jennifer. “With every ache and pain, your mind goes to the worst-case scenario. So, I was very excited when I heard about the vaccine.”  

In October 2021, Jennifer became the first patient to enroll in the trial and receive the first dose of the vaccine. “I didn’t think twice about getting the vaccine and haven’t looked back since.”  

Dr. Kruse says, “For a long time with triple-negative breast cancer, the overarching theme patients talked about is how they’re going through all this treatment but still feeling like they’re destined to have the cancer return. I think having the hope of this vaccine study where we can potentially turn that around and have some optimism as we approach the future for these patients is the best part.”  

Over the course of the study, Jennifer and other participants received three doses of the vaccine. The vaccinations were each given two weeks apart, and the participants were closely monitored for side effects and immune response. She received her last dose in November 2021 and has not noted any major side effects.  

“My husband went with me for the first vaccine. Then my mom went with me for the second and third,” says Jennifer. “I don’t know if I ever went to an appointment at Cleveland Clinic by myself, and that support has meant a lot to me.”  

Jennifer is hopeful about the vaccine trial and encourages others to stay positive amid the ongoing research. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

In February 2023, Cleveland Clinic researchers launched the next step in their study of the vaccine. The phase 1b clinical trial, conducted in partnership with Anixa Biosciences, Inc., focuses on individuals who are cancer-free, at high risk for developing breast cancer and have decided to voluntarily undergo a prophylactic mastectomy to lower their risk.  

Meanwhile, Jennifer, now 46 years old, continues to follow up with Dr. Kruse as she nears her fifth year of being in remission. Although it will take years to fully understand the vaccine’s effectiveness, she’s eager for what’s to come and hopes her story can help others diagnosed with breast cancer.  

“Even though you’re going to have days where you’re not positive, where you feel terrible – keep moving forward. If the vaccine works the way they want, it could prevent triple-negative breast cancer one day,” says Jennifer.  

Editor’s note: Dr. Tuohy was inventor of the technology, which Cleveland Clinic exclusively licensed to Anixa Biosciences. He was entitled to a portion of the commercialization revenues received by Cleveland Clinic and also held equity in the company.

Related Institutes: Lerner Research InstituteCleveland Clinic Cancer Center

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Ministry of Health and Human Services Conducts Emergency Vehicle Operators Course for Emergency Medical Services Personnel

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Ministry of Health and Human Services successfully conducted Emergency Vehicle Operator Training for Emergency Medical Services Department in March 2024.

The Ministry of Health and Human Services has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring the safety and efficiency of emergency services across the Turks and Caicos Islands with the successful completion of an Emergency Vehicle Operator Course. Hosted for all members of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department, this course marks a significant step in the ongoing efforts to provide high quality emergency response services.

Tailored specifically for ambulance operators, the course featured a comprehensive curriculum blending theoretical knowledge with practical skills. Participants underwent rigorous training encompassing critical safety practices essential for effective emergency responses. The amalgamation of didactic instruction and hands-on training enabled operators to navigate emergency situations with precision and confidence, fostering a culture of safety paramount for preserving lives.

In times of crisis, the EMS Department emphasizes the importance of well-trained and composed responders. Equipped with the skills acquired through this specialized course, EMS personnel are better prepared to address emergencies promptly and effectively, ensuring timely assistance to individuals in need.

The course, conducted by esteemed expert Mike Massaro, President of Trilogy Emergency Medical Solutions, ran from March 19th to March 22nd, 2024, across all islands. Mr. Massaro commended the EMS Department members for their enthusiasm and dedication to learning, acknowledging their pivotal role in enhancing community safety.

Participants lauded the interactive teaching approach employed throughout the course, noting its effectiveness in making lessons both engaging and informative. Their positive feedback underscores the value of practical, hands-on training in bolstering emergency response capabilities.

Minister of Health and Human Services, Honorable Shaun D Malcolm commented that “I am confident that the principles instilled during this course will significantly contribute to the safety and well-being of individuals accessing emergency services. By investing in continuous training and development, the Ministry remains steadfast in its mission to deliver safe, efficient and reliable emergency care to the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands.”

For more information, please visit the Turks and Caicos Islands Ministry of Health and Human Services Facebook pagE at https://www.facebook.com/tciministryofhealth/.

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Dengue cases rising in Region 

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Dana Malcolm 
Staff Writer 

As of March 26, 2024, over 3.5 million cases of dengue and more than 1,000 deaths have been reported in the region, now, both the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), are ringing alarm bells about the outbreak as cases swell to record highs.

PAHO on March 28 called for collective action in the region to fight back the growing wave of infections.

“This is cause for concern, as it represents three times more cases than those reported for the same period in 2023, a record year with more than 4.5 million cases reported in the region,” Jarbas Barbosa, PAHO Director said during a press briefing.

For now cases are concentrated in three main countries: Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina which account for nearly all of them, around 92 percent, but infections are on the rise regionally.

According to Barbosa, Caribbean countries must still be vigilant as data is beginning to show increases in areas like Barbados. That is paired with concerns from PAHO that some countries may not be equipped to handle the surge.

Nearly $500,000 was allocated in the 2023 2024 budget to the environmental health department under The Turks and Caicos Ministry of Health and Human Services to help with dengue which had been listed as a public nuisance.

Last year in the Turks and Caicos Islands, only a few rounds of fogging were completed. According to data from the Appropriations Committee around 10% of communities were fogged on schedule. Explaining the low number, representatives of the Environmental Health Department (EHD) maintained that fogging was not the primary defense against mosquito breeding locally.

”Fogging should actually be a last resort, there are preventative measures such as the treatment of swamps, and inspection of residential areas and communities for breeding sites.”

Representatives admitted though that they were still hampered by a lack of resources.

The country declared an outbreak in late 2024. Now there is an ongoing public education campaign to make residents aware of what they need to do to keep their homes safe and free from mosquitoes in addition

The Turks and Caicos Islands EHD also says they have been provided with money to help with garbage disposal in their battle against the vector borne disease.

The Ministry has also contracted entomologists to research what kind of mosquitoes live in the country and how to tackle them.

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31 Turks & Caicos Medical Professionals, Trained in Trauma care

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Dana Malcolm 
Staff Writer 

In a first for the Turks and Caicos and one that some would describe as particularly important, over three dozen healthcare professionals were upskilled in emergency trauma care via Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) certification.

Trauma Care in emergency medicine usually refers to treating patients who are critically ill or have severe injuries and need to be quickly stabilized like gunshot wounds, damaged limbs, crush injuries, and stab wounds.

In 1976 following a plane crash involving a surgeon and his children who experienced substandard trauma care, the first ATLS course was created. It attempts to provide basic training for medical professionals when dealing with acute trauma cases where there is little staff on hand. In fact ATLS is supposed to work with as little as a single doctor and nurse team working together to stop the most critical injuries first, ensuring a better chance of survival.

This is particularly useful for the Turks and Caicos with its small hospitals and limited staff. Health officials admitted this, highlighting what they describe as ‘the pressing need for such training, particularly due to physician shortage, isolated communities in family islands and other barriers to accessing this critical training.’

Recognizing the need, the Hamilton Education Foundation jumped into action, and in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital and the American College of Surgeons conducted a Hybrid Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) Demo for 31 doctors in the Turks and Caicos Islands on May 22nd and 23rd, 2024.

Led by Professor Susan Briggs,the foundation describes the course as historic in that it’s the first-ever done outside the United States and says it is;“Crucial for enhancing the quality of healthcare delivery and saving lives in the face of increasing intentional and unintentional injuries.”

With the rise in gunshot injuries in the country, seen through police data since 2020 many residents might be inclined to agree.

While admitting it was difficult to measure if ATLS reduced mortality, a 2016 article published in the National Library of Medicine describes the courses as “very useful from an educational point of view. It significantly increased knowledge, and improved practical skills and the critical decision making process in managing multiple trauma patients”

Rufus Ewing, Former Premier and Executive Chairman of the Hamilton Education Foundation, said, “This initiative aligns with our mission to enhance medical education and improve access to quality healthcare services in the Turks and Caicos Islands.”

The training received broad brush support from the Ministry of Health, TCI Hospital and private sector.

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