Loretta Lynch: MUSC’s “Science Café”

October 17, 2017 – Loretta Lynch of MUSC joined us for our Tuesday meeting to speak about immunotherapy as part of MUSC’s Science Cafe. Joining Loretta was her research team of Eric Bartee, PhD; Chrystal Paulos, PhD and Mark Rubenstein, PhD. Eric started by discussing how they arrived at immunotherapy as part of cancer treatment. Immunotherapy doesn’t treat the disease but treats the patient so they can fight the disease. The single greatest medical achievement in recent history is the eradication of small pox which was not treated itself but was eradicated by treating the patient. Your body fights cancer off 99 percent of the time, it is the 1 percent that we need to address. That can be done with antibodies, checkpoint blockade or killer T Cells. The specific form of immunotherapy he is researching is Oncolytics or treating with viruses. Oncolytics combines two powerful strategies into a single treatment. In the initial steps, a patient is intentionally infected with a virus which preferentially infects and kills cancer cells. These viruses identify and replicate specifically in transformed cancer cells resulting in the generation of new infectious virus. This newly replicated virus subsequently spreads to adjoining cancer cells where the process repeats resulting in a tumor localized cascade of viral infection. This process, known as direct oncolytics, causes the elimination of virtually all directly infected cancer cells resulting in a swift reduction in tumor size.

Crystal followed with her approach which is taking T cells out of the body, engineering them and putting them back in your body. Science magazine recognized their research at MUSC along with others as the breakthrough of the year. Use of drugs has a short span of effectiveness but adoptive cell transfer (ACT) therapy has enduring effects. ACT involves removal of T cells from the patient, their expansion/manipulation, followed by their return to patient preconditioned with lymphodepletion via chemotherapy agents and/or total body irradiation. She showed multiple examples of success stories of people who were cured of cancer with T cell therapy.

Mark explained how cancer cells are tumor cells that often contain immune cells within them but their ability to fight the cancer has been blocked. His approach is called checkpoint therapies, that allows immune cells within tumor cells to regain their ability to fight cancer. Melanoma has more mutations than other cancers but responds well to immunotherapy, the goal is to transfer that success to other forms of cancer. They are running clinical trials for lung cancer and are seeing positive results.

The National Cancer Institute receives about $5B a year but immunotherapy gets only about 4 % of that. The US defense budget is about $600B by comparison. Loretta concluded that as an academic research facility they want and need to reach out to the community for awareness and support. For more information: http://academicdepartments.musc.edu/research/    

Don Baus, Keyway Committee Chair