Manage episode 286118090 series 1538640
You could very well have cancer cells circulating in your body at this very moment. But don’t worry, because if you do, you’ll probably never know it. And you can thank your immune system for that.
So how does cancer develop at all? Why and when does the immune system fail to protect us from cancer? And how can this knowledge lead to an effective treatment?
Tune in for the answers to these questions and more, including:
- Why patchy losses of skin color in people who have melanoma is a good sign that the immune system is doing its job
- How the body can develop a memory of tumors, equipping it to promptly attack cancer cells that show up months, years, or even decades after the initial tumor
- About how many immunosuppressive mechanisms exist, and how they work
At Dartmouth College, Steven Fiering is a professor of microbiology, immunology, and genetics, with a primary focus on immunotherapy for cancer.
While there are good treatments for cancers that have not metastasized, like surgery and radiation, outcomes for metastatic solid tumors are almost universally poor. According to Fiering and many others, immunotherapy might be the solution.
The bulk of Fiering’s work boils down to a rather simple understanding of the immune system: it is a constant balance between suppressive and stimulatory signals from other cells in the body. When it receives a certain level of stimulatory signals, the immune response kicks into gear; when it receives a certain level of suppressive signals, its function is reduced.
We also know that there are immunosuppressant characteristics of cancer that the immune system can’t destroy. “Any immunotherapy that works has to overcome the immunosuppression that’s manifested by the tumor,” explains Fiering.
In light of this understanding, Fiering is focused on using known immunostimulatory reagents to directly change the environment within a tumor, from immunosuppressive to immunostimulatory. He is researching how to optimize the use of these reagents for the best immune response against tumors that are directly treated by them, as well as the best systemic response against metastatic disease.
In short, immunotherapy might hold the key to effective treatment of metastatic cancers without the detrimental side effects of chemotherapy. This would be an absolute breakthrough in the world of cancer.
Press play for an in-depth conversation about this work and so much more.