Why Kristen Dahlgren Left NBC To Advocate for Breast Cancer Vaccines

Longtime NBC News correspondent Kristen Dahlgren made headlines of her own recently when she announced she was leaving her media career to invest her time and energy in the Pink Eraser Project, a non-profit organization in support of breast cancer vaccines. Dahlgren, a breast cancer survivor, co-founded the organization with attorney and fellow survivor Michele Young.

“When you go on national TV and announce that you’re leaving your job so that you can help cure cancer, you never know exactly what the response is going to be,” Dahlgren said. “It’s a huge leap of faith. And, you know, if I’ve learned anything over the past week or so, it’s that people are ready for this.”

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It was announced last year that, starting with the Cleveland Clinic, patients with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) were being enrolled in an expansion phase of an ongoing phase 1 clinical trial evaluating a novel cancer vaccine administered in combination with the immunotherapy Keytruda (pembrolizumab).

A team of researchers from the University of Washington Medicine Cancer Vaccine Institute and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle announced findings in 2022 in JAMA Oncology that a plasmid DNA vaccine “was associated with the generation of immunity in most patients, which persisted after the end of vaccinations.” Representatives from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center confirmed to CURE® in 2022 that the center had partnered with Amazon in an ongoing early-phase clinical trial investigating the safety and efficacy of a cancer vaccine.

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“We have the science that in a short amount of time — we’re talking about two, five, 10 years — if we marshaled our forces, what was breast cancer will be what is polio, it will be a treatable condition for most that will be treatable by vaccines, both in terms of how we treat the illness but hopefully [also] within 10 years the illness itself will be preventable,” said Young. “It’s an extraordinary turning point in human history, when what has been the ancient killer of women, and very much still across the world, the leading epidemic for women the leading killer, which shapes our lives, one in eight in the US, one in seven in the world, and third world countries, even greater numbers. We could end it.

Current roadblocks faced by researchers, Dahlgren said, include recruiting patients for participation in clinical trials and funding for research. The Pink Eraser Project is aiming to build a database of patients interested in participating in trials and is turning to the public to help with funding.

“We have our doctors, and they meet every few weeks, and we just listen to them,” Dahlgren said. “We’ve asked them, ‘What are your pain points in this process?’ And without a doubt, funding is number one. Look, these trials are very expensive. When you get into phase 3 trials, especially, most institutions don’t have that kind of money. So, they’re looking to the government to get the funding for it, or they’re looking to big pharma or biotech to fund it. You know, that’s our current model, that takes time. And so, one way that we’re looking to sort of accelerate the process is being able to fund these trials or help fund these trials. And so that’s a big part of this. And look, I come from a mom who told me to never talk about money. And now, here I am asking people, if you can, to help us out financially.”

Donations to support the Pink Eraser Project and the work of the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York can be made by visiting pinkeraserproject.org, where supporters can also learn about the team of doctors working with the organization from institutions including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Roswell Park and Cleveland Clinic.

“We are women with a mission, and it is to free the potential of every woman in this world that may be stopped part-way, all the way, by breast cancer,” said Young.


When you go on national TV and announce that you’re leaving your job so that you can help cure cancer, you never know exactly what the response is going to be. It’s a huge leap of faith. And, you know, if I’ve learned anything over the past week or so, it’s that people are ready for this, they are really excited about this science.

Look, Michele and I are not the scientists, we’re not the ones who are actually doing the vaccine research, but we are just doing everything we can to get the word out about it and to get people to know that this is close, this is a possibility. This is no longer pie-in-the-sky thinking, all of the pieces are there for the science and we’re going to do everything we can to support it and accelerate it. So, we’ve just heard from thousands upon thousands of people who are really excited and getting involved. And that’s what this is, this is an effort for everyone.

We’ve all been touched by breast cancer in some way. And we need everybody to be a part of this solution. And so, whether it’s donating funds via our website, whether it’s volunteering, or whether it’s just spreading the word and talking to people to let them know what’s out there, this is going to take every single one of us to do.
Transcript has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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