Justin M. Balko, Pharm.D., Ph.D.

New drugs that use the body’s own immune system to treat cancer have been one of the most exciting recent developments in cancer research. Studying the cancer cells in a tumor tells doctors a lot about how to treat that kind of cancer, no matter whether it appears in the breast, the brain or somewhere else in the body. Most types of cancer that respond to these new drugs have something in common: they tend to have high numbers of gene mutations, or DNA changes.
Mutations sometimes cause changes that make the tumor cell look like it has been infected by a virus or bacteria. This makes the immune system attack the tumor, just as it would attack a cold or an infected cut on the finger.
Most mutations have no impact on how aggressive a patient’s cancer is, so having more mutations is not a bad thing. In fact, patients whose tumors have more mutations often have better outcomes, probably because they trigger the immune system to start attacking the cancer.
Unfortunately, many other cancer types have fewer mutations, and so may not respond as well to new drugs that stimulate the immune system. We suspect that a specific group of drugs may make some of these tumors respond better.
In this study, we will try to find out if this is true. If so, it may be possible to begin testing the drugs on patients right away to help patients whose cancer does not respond to standard treatments.

Location: Vanderbilt University Medical Center - Tennessee
Proposal: Maximizing neo-antigens in cancer by epigenetic modulation: improving responses to immunotherapy
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