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Meet the three top finalists for the 2012 Rangos Award for Creativity in Cancer Discovery and watch a video detailing their new and innovative approaches to metastatic cancer research and treatment.
Sharabi proposes that metastatic testicular cancer is largely curable in most patients because immune cells zero in on testicular cancer cells with far more accuracy than they do in other cancers. Testicular cancer cells can spread to the rest of the body and may initially go undetected by immune system cells. However, he says he believes that chemotherapy given to patients causes testicular cancer cells to die, releasing many targets for the immune cells.
At that time, the immune system kicks into high gear, generating large numbers of circulating immune cells, whose task is to seek the testicular cancer cells and destroy them. He also believes that after chemotherapy, testicular cancer cells essentially may be recognized as foreign by the immune cells because the blood-testis barrier had, until then, kept testicular cells hidden from the immune system.
He proposes further investigations of how the immune system responds to testicular cancer cells to identify specific immune system targets common to testicular cancer as well as other types of cancer. The research could lead to the development of vaccines that prime the body to defend against and fight cancers.
Huang describes cancer as a “fight between two parasites: cancer vs. transposons.” She notes that nearly half of the human genome is made up of “jumping” DNA, short sequences of DNA that get inserted into the genome at various points; too many transposons can lead to genomic instability and kill the cell.
Huang says that germ cell tumors have the highest level of transposon activity, making them more prone to cell death and, thus, more easily killed by chemotherapy drugs. There is potential of using drugs to target proteins that normally suppress transposon activity in most cell types.
Heiser proposes more metastatic cancers can be cured by understanding how cancer cells repair their own DNA. She suggests that metastatic cancer cells are able to survive the severe DNA breaks that occur with DNA damaging agents like chemotherapy by repairing themselves quickly and efficiently.
By determining the specific proteins that help metastatic cancer cells repair their DNA, researchers could reveal new targets for drugs that sensitize cancer cells to chemo or radiation therapy.