Monday, October 7, 2013

Mission Monday: Meet a LLS-Funded Researcher in Texas

Helen Heslop, M.D.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) spends millions of dollars every year supporting the work of the best and brightest blood cancer researchers around the world.

Today we introduce you to Helen Heslop, M.D. of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.  Dr. Heslop's work has been sponsored by LLS since 2009. Her focus is on manipulating cells to keep them from becoming resistant to anticancer drugs and below she describes a current joint project that is showing great promise.
"Chemotherapy for lymphoma often cures the disease, but the intensive drug treatments that destroy lymphoma cells also kill normal cells, resulting in serious side effects. Another problem with standard treatment is that the lymphoma cells can become resistant to one or more of the anticancer drugs, so that the disease can come back. One way to avoid these complications is to use the patient’s own immunity to target lymphoma cells while sparing healthy tissues and organs. Investigators in the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine have found that a particular kind of immune cell called the cytotoxic T lymphocytes, or CTLs - can be manipuiated to effectively treat for some types of lymphoma related to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). They now plan to modify their successful treatment strategies so that they will apply to patients with other types of lymphoma. Drs Cliona Rooney and Helen Heslop will improve treatments for the types of Hodgkin and other lymphomas associated with EBV by re-focusing the CTLs onto two EBV-derived structures on the tumor cell surface. They will also give patients an antibody that will remove many of the cells and molecules that stop the CTLs working at tumor sites. They will also engineer the CTLs cells so that they will become able to recognize a structure that is present on the tumor cells of almost all patients with Hodgkin lymphoma, not just those whose disease is associated with EBV. This approach is based on studies by Dr Malcolm Brenner, who has shown that CTLs for lymphoma can be redirected to tumors by changing the targeting-molecules they express on their surface. Dr Brenner will test this approach in lymphoma patients whose cells express a structure called CD19. He will also test the idea that changing other CTL surface molecules will allow cells to evade the body`s defenses against self-directed immune responses and kill larger numbers of lymphoma cells. Finally, Dr Si-Yi Chen has discovered that the action of an unusual protein called suppressor of cytokine signaling 1 (SOCS1) can be switched-off to allow a different type of immune cell called a dendritic cell to provide stronger stimulation of CTLs. If switching-off SOCS1 improves CTL killing of lymphoma cells in mice, this strategy will be tested in patients, by giving a dendritic cell vaccine. These investigators are creating a collaborative research environment that will yield better results that would be expected from a single laboratory working in isolation. Their long-term goal is to advance cure rates in Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin Iymphomas without the side effects typically seen with conventional treatments, and ultimately to extend the benefits of CTL therapy to other blood cancers."

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