THE PATRICK C. WALSH PROSTATE CANCER RESEARCH FUND AWARDEES
MOLECULAR THERAPY Reactivating Disabled Genes
What if a man's 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 immune
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 man's prostate cancer? Drake's first job, which he'll 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.”