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Cancer Immunology

The immune system is the body’s first line of defense against most diseases and unnatural invaders.  But unlike these other invaders, the enemy in cancer is our own cells.  These cells, through subtle alterations, become immortal malignant cells but are often not changed enough to elicit an immune reaction.  Understanding how the immune system works—or does not work—against cancer is a primary focus of Cancer Immunology investigators. The program is focused on three major areas:  the basic mechanisms of cancer immunity, engineering immune-based therapies, and developing clinical trials to study these new therapies.  Our researchers have uncovered genetic links to infection-caused inflammation that can lead to cancer, deciphered the way cells regulate immune responses, and how tumors slip under the radar. Among the most significant accomplishments is the development of therapeutic vaccines for cancer.  Based on new research that has revealed genetic links to immune behavior, they are now combining these vaccines with other treatments, including targeted therapies, bone marrow transplant, and gene and gene-pathway inhibitors to make progress against difficult cancers, including pancreas cancer and multiple myeloma. Immunology advances also have improved bone marrow transplant outcomes by preventing the patient’s immune system from rejecting donor marrow.  Through collaborations with other research programs, investigators have developed novel approaches leading to new ways to manage breast, prostate, cervical, gastrointestinal, and other cancers.  Cancer Immunology Program leader is Drew Pardoll, M.D., Ph.D.

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