prostate cancer discovery

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the patrick c. walsh prostate cancer research fund

Restoring the Immune System’s Memory

In effect, prostate cancer throws dust in the eyes of T-cells, specialized white blood cells whose job is to kill cells it recognizes as the enemy. Then it gives them a case of amnesia.

The immune system is extremely powerful — which is why one of prostate cancer’s first strategic attacks is to disable it. In effect, prostate cancer throws dust in the eyes of T-cells, specialized white blood cells whose job is to kill cells it recognizes as the enemy. Then it gives them a case of amnesia. But the amnesia may be reversible, says W. Nathaniel Brennen, Ph.D., assistant professor of oncologist. It turns out that the immune system has its own version of a backup hard drive — “special T-cells that live in the bone marrow known as memory T-cells.” With support from the Patrick C. Walsh Prostate Cancer Research Fund, Brennen and oncologist Ivan Borrello, M.D., will go after these memory cells and use them to remind the T-cells involved in fighting prostate cancer that there are enemies close at hand that need to be destroyed.

“The good news is that the body stores memory of what the prostate cancer looks like on these special T-cells, which normally are maintained in a resting state,” says Brennen. In this investigation, he will “isolate these memory T-cells from the bone marrow, grow them outside the body, activate them using special techniques, and characterize their anti-tumor immune responses.” Though this has never been shown to work against prostate cancer, “extremely promising” results in other tumor types have been observed by Borrello. “The ultimate goal is to re-infuse these tumor-specific memory T-cells back into the patient to hunt and kill cancer cells spread throughout the body,” Brennen adds, “essentially, generating a personalized cancer immunotherapy platform.”

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