Immunotherapy - NFCR Cancer Research Focus Area



What is Immunotherapy?

The immune system is the body’s defense against disease as it recognizes and destroys any foreign material that could cause harm. In some instances, the immune system can recognize cancer cells as abnormal and kill them; in others, the cancer evades the immune system wreaking havoc in our bodies.

In recent years, some of the most promising advances in cancer research involve immunotherapies – treatments that use the immune system to fight diseases like cancer. By finding new ways to help the immune system recognize cancer cells – specifically in solid tumors, and strengthen its response to destroy them, researchers are looking for long-lasting solutions to cure cancer.

NFCR Research Highlights

Dr. Paul Fisher discovered a powerful cytokine, IL/24, or immune system modulator that destabilizes both primary and metastatic cancer cells resulting in direct killing or indirect toxicity through activation of the immune system and inhibition of angiogenesis. IL/24 gene therapy is effective against many types of solid tumors and he has developed innovative ways to deliver IL/24 gene therapy to the body including adoptive cell therapy. Dr. Fisher and Dr. Web Cavenee are first advancing IL/24 gene therapy for the deadly brain cancer, glioblastoma or GBM.

The new immunotherapy called checkpoint inhibitors—that unleashes the brake on our immune system to recognize and fight cancer cells—is successful in some cancers but not in treating GBM. Dr. Rakesh Jain’s research is focused on combining anti-angiogenic treatment with the immunotherapy of immune checkpoint inhibitors to enable the inhibitors to effectively fight GBM.

In collaboration, NFCR-funded scientists, Dr. Paul Schimmel and Dr. Xiang-Lei Yang discovered that the vital protein synthesis enzyme, SerRS, has critical anti-cancer properties. In complex tumor models of triple negative breast cancer, not only does SerRS shut down angiogenesis, it may activate the immune system to suppress cancer progression and metastasis.  This research may lead to a novel treatment for breast, brain, rectal, esophageal, kidney lung and thyroid cancer.

Dr. Laurence Cooper, a pediatric oncologist and scientist who received NFCR support for 11 years, is a pioneer in developing adoptive immunotherapy. This novel approach called ‘CAR-T Cell therapy’ first collects cancer patients’ T cells (our white blood cells of our immune system) and engineers the cells in the laboratory to express an antenna-like molecule called CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) that recognized antigens (proteins) on cancer cells. Once infused back to patients, the CAR-T cells have enhanced cancer-fighting capacity and stimulate patient’s immune system. His research has helped advance the new promising immunotherapies using CAR-T cells for leukemia and lymphoma patients.

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Getting the body moving can be particularly challenging during winter when many parts of the country are under an icy blanket of snow. Undoubtedly it is more comfortable to stay snuggled up on the couch dreaming of spring. However, new research shows that physical activity prevents cancer – and the gold standard is not as unattainable as one might think.  Exercise and Cancer Prevention This 2021 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reviewed the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System results. This system collects self-reported data from individuals 30 years or older collected in all 50 states and Washington D.C. between 2013 and 2016. The study reveals that participating in five or more hours of exercise each week reduced the risk of seven different cancers. The seven cancers linked to physical inactivity include: 17% of stomach cancer cases  12% of endometrial cancer cases  11% of kidney cancer cases  9% of colon cancer cases 8% of esophageal cancer cases 7% of breast cancer cases in women, and  4% of urinary bladder cancers  Simply put, the team discovered that over 46,000 cases of cancer could potentially be avoided per year in the United States if the population met the recommended five hours/week of physical activity. What Kind of Physical Activity Should You Try?  While undertaking any type of physical activity may significantly reduce cancer risk, some types of exercise may be even more effective. A University of Sydney research team assembled to determine which form of exercise is the most effective at preventing cancer. After studying 80,000 adults, the team concluded that strength training is more effective at prolonging life than cardio workouts. The study considered multiple health variables, such as age, health status, and lifestyle. Even when accounting for these factors, the study found that strength training twice a week reduced the likelihood of dying from cancer by 31%. Actually, the overall probability of any kind of premature death decreased by 23%.  Exercise and Immunotherapy Response  Similarly, a 2021 study led by National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR)-funded scientist Dr. Rakesh Jain found that exercise training may slow tumor growth and improve outcomes for females with breast cancer – especially those treated with immunotherapy drugs. The team used animal models of breast cancer in this study, which showed physical activity increasing levels of cancer-fighting immune cells. Tumors in mouse models of human breast cancer grew more slowly in mice put through their paces in a structured aerobic exercise program than in sedentary mice. The tumors in exercised mice exhibited an increased anti-tumor immune response. Additionally, the tumors grew more slowly in mice that performed exercise training. Living a Cancer-Preventative Lifestyle Regular exercise can significantly improve one’s overall health concerning cancer, other serious diseases, mental health, and general wellbeing. Many researchers continue to explore how best to reap the benefits of a well-balanced lifestyle, and NFCR is committed to providing free evidence-based guidance in its monthly Cancer-Fighting Lifestyle blog and YouTube Channel.  Additional Reads You May Enjoy: Mushrooms for Cancer Prevention and Mental Wellbeing Genetic Predisposition vs. Healthy Living: Which Impacts Cancer Risk More? 5 Ways Spending More Time Outside Benefits Our Health Stay connected with us! Receive our monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring stories of inspiration, support resources, cancer […]

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