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Experimental vaccine completely wipes out woman's aggressive breast cancer

The 43-year-old was one of 50 women to take an experimental vaccine called PANVAC and is now the sole survivor of the trial.

Experimental vaccine completely wipes out woman's aggressive breast cancer
Cover Image Source: Getty Images (representative)

When Samantha Seinfeld—a former solar energy marketer—developed breast cancer in 2006, she was as fit as she'd ever been. Running 10 to 15 miles a day, Seinfield had no reason to suspect that an aggressive cancer was taking over her body. Neither did her OB/GYN when she went in for a routine exam, telling her that the bump on her breastbone was probably nothing as she was too young to have cancer. However, a visit to another doctor a few weeks later threw Seinfield into full-blown cancer treatment, with a lumpectomy, removal of her ovaries, and chemotherapy. She even had to have part of her liver removed when her surgeon found that the cancer had metastasized there.


Two years into the cancer battle, Seinfield signed up for an experimental vaccine for cancer patients at the University of Washington in Seattle. However, six months into it, her breast cancer returned. "The cancer had metastasized to my chest cavity," she revealed. That's when Seinfield found out about another trial being conducted by the National Institutes of Health. When she asked the clinical trial director in Seattle about it, she was encouraged to join the NIH trial as it looked quite promising. "She said the vaccines are looking really good," said Seinfield.


"The fact that it was another vaccine trial could work in tandem with the vaccines I had received over the six-month period in Seattle. Nothing is scientifically proven; it is pure theory, but it was enough for me. I flew out to Bethesda from California," she added. Seinfield left her job and her boyfriend and immersed herself in the trial which, according to The Washington Post,  originally included 12 other patients with breast cancer and 14 with ovarian cancer. More than a decade later, Seinfield is cancer-free and giving back to the scientific community as NIH scientists examine her DNA for clues that could help others battling the disease.



According to NBC, the 43-year-old was one of 50 women to take an experimental vaccine called PANVAC and is now the sole survivor of the trial. Medical oncologist Dr. Margaret Gatti-Mays, who specializes in immunotherapy and breast cancer at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, is the co-director of the clinical trials group. Speaking of the vaccine, Gatti-Mays said, "This vaccine would train her immune system to identify that her cancer cells were bad and train the immune cells to not only find these cancer cells but also to kill them and get rid of them."



The vaccine's effect on Seinfield was remarkable and extremely rare. Not only did she recover, but doctors also say there is no trace of cancer in her body anymore. "Sometimes being the one that's the only survivor or someone that can change things can scare other people. Why her? And believe me, I wonder, why me?" Seinfeld said. "Some of the others have died from their cancer and in all of the others [except Seinfeld] the cancer eventually got worse," said James Gulley, director of the Clinical Trials Group in the Laboratory of Tumor Immunology and Biology at the NCI.



Researchers are now studying Seinfeld’s case, studying her body down to its cellular makeup to figure out why the treatment was so successful for her and not for others. They believe her case could help thousands of other women battling the disease in the future. "This helps us get a sense of what really separates those patients who have incredible responses and how potentially we can help others have those responses too," said Gatti-Mays.


Now, Seinfeld returns to NIH every three months to get her PANVAC vaccine and has monthly appointments with her oncologist. Having been cancer-free for over 12 years and she is only looking forward. "I hope for a lifetime of health, that will be my wealth," she said.


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