What if a manís own immune system could be beefed
up somehow, so it not only recognized prostate cancer cells as the
enemy, but destroyed them, as well? This is immunotherapy, and so
far, no scientist has been able to pack enough punch into the immune
system to change the course of prostate cancer. Oncologist Charles
Drake, M.D., Ph.D., the Phyllis and Brian L. Harvey Scholar, suspects
that this is because the body — in an attempt to be helpful — is
holding itself back.
The goal: Outmaneuver
system cells that act as overzealous
do-gooders—and make immunotherapy
much more successful.
The culprit, he believes, is a group of cells known
as regulatory T cells. "The presence of these cells has been clearly
shown in breast and ovarian cancer," he explains, "and in these
cancers, regulatory T cells are associated with a poor outcome."
Do these cells — misguided warriors trying to protect the body,
but enabling the cancer instead — predict the aggressiveness of
a manís prostate cancer? Drakeís first job, which heíll accomplish
by studying prostate cancer specimens, is to find out whether these
cells are indeed at the scene of the crime. Next, he hopes to outmaneuver
these overzealous do-gooders. "When regulatory T cells are blocked
or deleted, then we suspect that immunotherapy for prostate cancer
will be more successful.”