Tammi Freehling | January 6, 2017
Immunologists are changing how we look at cancer by studying how our immune system plays a role in treating cancer.
Brian Baker, Ph.D. and his lab in the Harper Cancer Research Institute and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry were recently awarded a $4 million, 5-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study how they can best engineer a patient’s own T cells in their immune system to target the patient’s specific cancer.
Over the last decades, immunologists have been gaining greater understanding of the relationship between cancer and the immune system—more specifically, how the immune system defends against cancer. For example, immunologists know that patients with weakened immune systems (recipients of organ transplants, HIV patients, etc.) have greater occurrences of cancer. The question “How does cancer escape the immune system, take hold, and progress?” has been studied for many years and has led to new approaches, including successful new drug therapies like the immunotherapy treatment former President Jimmy Carter received that has rendered his metastatic melanoma in remission. Understanding the relationship between the immune system and cancer has led to these new drug therapies, which “take the brakes off” the immune system to allow a more complete and effective anti-cancer immune response.