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.