Story

Developing a new vaccine to treat triple-negative breast cancer

Powered by support from the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), Dr Lee-Hwa Tai and her team are developing an immunotherapy vaccine with the goal of treating triple-negative breast cancer, one of the most difficult to treat types of breast cancer.

[Dr Tai, a cancer researcher, sits slightly off to one side in front of a camera as she speaks. The camera cuts to a photo of her with other researchers in a lab.]

Dr Tai: 
Often when people think about cancer research, they think about the scientist alone in the lab. But there’s an entire team behind me.

[Yellow title screen appears]: IT TAKES A SOCIETY TO TAKE ON CANCER

[The Canadian Cancer Society logo appears on screen]: Dr Lee-Hwa Tai, cancer researcher

Dr Tai: 
Hello, I’m Dr Lee-Hwa Tai. I’m a cancer researcher and I work as a professor of immunology at the University of Sherbrooke.

[Photos of Dr Tai looking into a microscope and at a patient advocate event appear.]

Dr Tai: 
We are developing a new type of vaccine for breast cancer. Specifically for triple-negative breast cancer.

Dr Tai: 
Working with patient advocates and just the public in general is extremely important in cancer research. Without that lived experience, how do I know what’s important for the cancer patient? How do I know if a therapy that we’re trying to develop is tolerable? And without the financing from the Canadian Cancer Society my research would be at a standstill.

[Photos of Dr Tai and a researcher examining a test tube and Dr Tai examining petri dishes appear on screen]

Dr Tai: 
It is a very, very long road of many moments. Many smaller breakthroughs that come together for that major breakthrough moment. We are definitely not alone in this endeavour.

[As Dr Tai finishes speaking, a montage of different faces appears in five split vertical frames on screen. Then the screen transitions to yellow and the Canadian Cancer Society logo appears]: IT TAKES A SOCIETY

[The Canadian Cancer Society logo appears on screen]: Get involved at cancer.ca

[Dr Tai, a cancer researcher, sits in front of a camera as she speaks.]

Dr Tai: Often when people think about cancer research, they think about the scientist alone in the lab.

[A photo of Dr Tai with other researchers in a lab appears on screen.]

Dr Tai: But there’s an entire team behind me that makes this entire research engine run.

[As Dr Tai finishes speaking, a montage of different faces appears in five split vertical frames on screen. Then the screen transitions to yellow and the Canadian Cancer Society logo appears]: IT TAKES A SOCIETY TO TAKE ON CANCER

[The Canadian Cancer Society logo appears on screen.]

Called to be a cancer researcher

An associate professor at the Université de Sherbrooke, Dr Tai has made it her goal to find ways to treat metastatic cancer in the same way that primary cancers can be treated. It all began during her PhD studies at McGill University.

“Studying the immune system during my PhD awoke my interest in cancer research,” says Dr Tai. “Working alongside clinicians and cancer patients while developing novel immunotherapies during my postdoctoral fellowship, cemented my calling as a cancer researcher.”

It is estimated that about 1 in 8 Canadian women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime. This has pushed Dr Tai to work every single day and be resilient in her pursuit to develop the vaccine to treat triple-negative breast cancer.

Developing a vaccine that gives hope

With support from CCS, along with her team, Dr Tai is developing a treatment that uses a person’s own tumour cells in combination with a cancer-killing virus to create an immunotherapy vaccine, to target triple-negative breast cancer.

This combination approach has previously led to a strong anti-tumour immune response in previous work by her team and other researchers. Now, Dr Tai is studying the different parts of the body’s immune response to this strategy, to identify and test factors that can boost the treatment’s effectiveness. If Dr Tai and her team are successful with their research, this can provide a much-needed treatment option for people with what has been considered one of the most difficult breast cancers to treat.

With support from CCS, this research can help people live longer and fuller lives.

Researcher Dr Tai
Dr Lee-Hwa Tai at her research desk

Your funding help Dr Tai save lives

The breast cancer death rate has decreased by over 40% since the early 1990s, but it is still the most diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death among Canadian women. Donations have helped support Dr Tai move forward in her research.

Funding allows me to be a scientist. It allows me to ask research questions, design and execute studies to address these questions, hire students and research staff, mentor them, conduct collaborative research, publish our research, patent our inventions, raise more funds, and most importantly, initiate clinical trials to help as many cancer patients as possible.
Donate today to help fund researchers like Dr Tai. Nothing big gets solved by one person or one organization. To take on cancer, it takes every one of us. It takes a society.