Dr. Kristin Anderson’s Groundbreaking Research on Effective T-cell Treatments for Ovarian Cancer
New research conducted at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center by Drs. Phil Greenberg and Kristin Anderson shows great promise in adapting immunotherapy to solid tumors, such as breast, ovarian and lung cancers. The team has already achieved a few important successes with leukemia T-cell therapy by adapting it to solid tumors. Dr. Anderson recently described her new results in applying the treatment to ovarian cancer, as well as the challenges that this undertaking has posed for her and her colleagues.
The Challenges of Using T-cell Therapy
The development of T-cell therapy and its application to solid tumors has been challenging at best, and for now, has only showed any real results in mice studies.
Ovarian cancer is less common, but also far deadlier than most types of tumors, since it can hardly be detected in due time. The lack of obvious symptoms has led to an estimated 14,000 women dying of the disease, out of 22,000 successful diagnoses.
While T-cells can be injected directly into the bloodstream, the method has posed significant difficulties when it comes to targeting the tumors precisely. Also, the tumor microenvironment can make it even more difficult for T-cells to do their work properly.
Solutions for the Most Notable Obstacles
Anderson’s team has identified the proteins WT1 and mesothelin, which are overproduced due to the presence of ovarian cancer cells. By targeting these proteins through T cells, they’ve managed to kill cancer cells in both human and mouse tissue in the lab.
The research conducted by Anderson revealed three different roadblocks posed by the tumor microenvironment:
- The microenvironment contains immunosuppressive cells that directly affect T cells, rendering them inoperable and unable to target the tumors. According to Anderson, there are inhibitor drugs that could solve the problem, and the T cells themselves can be enhanced as well.
- The low-sugar environment of the tumors reduces the amount of energy available to the T cells to function. Researchers are currently trying to modify the cells, so they can use alternative energy sources.
- A molecular signal that causes T cells heading toward the tumors to self-destruct is also a major impediment. The Greenberg lab is working on a new fusion protein that can modify the T cells to boost their anti-tumor abilities in response to the signal.
Anderson’s team hopes that future research will lead to more effective methods to counteract these problems. Also, a clinical trial of the enhanced T cells will be launched for ovarian cancer patients during the next few years.
A Personal and Professional Matter
Anderson has been passionately working on the leading edge of immunotherapy since before she met with Greenberg for the first time. Her own experience with a mutated type of breast cancer that also made her prone for ovarian cancer had spurred her motivation to come up with new effective therapies for subduing the latter.
As an immunologist, Anderson considers immunotherapy one of the primary research areas that scientists have to consider when approaching the challenges of solid tumors.
Just as past research helped provide the necessary treatment to cure Anderson’s breast cancer, she is also inspired to do the same for countless others who suffer from ovarian cancer and other forms of solid tumors today.