Finding a cure through immunity checks and balances
As Dr. Carl Ware and his team at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute’s (SBP) Infectious and Inflammatory Disease Center have found, not all cytokines are created equal, and one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to treating immune disease.
Dr. Ware provided an overview of his groundbreaking research into cytokines and their impact on immunity at a recent lecture at SBP. The event, attended by more than 80 local residents interested in learning more about cutting-edge research on the topic, was sponsored by G-12, a community service group stressing health, education, and friendship.
Cytokines are small, powerful proteins secreted by cells in the immune system that act as messengers to regulate the response to infection, inflammation, and other important duties.
Dr. Ware and his team have been instrumental in the discovery of how to use therapeutics to manipulate cytokines, effectively turning on and rewiring the immune system to attack diseases, like cancer and autoimmune diseases. Their research has contributed to a new, breakthrough therapy called “checkpoint inhibitors” that reveal tumor cells as unwanted entities to the immune system that need to be destroyed. Two such inhibitors for CTLA4 and PD1, were recently approved by the FDA and show a 30-40 percent response in patients with melanoma or lung cancer, a promising new therapy for two very deadly cancers.
However, a potential side effect of stimulating the immune system against cancer is that it can spiral out of control and lead to autoimmune diseases. While cancers trick cytokines by sending out signals to deactivate T-cells, activating the immune system to attack tumors may cause adverse events—including the attack of normal healthy cells—leading to diseases like dermatitis, enterocolitis, thyroiditis, and others.
The incredible variance of cytokines, the wide array in genes, and environmental and lifestyle influences support the need for more tailored therapeutic approaches provided by precision medicine. Dr. Ware advocates the precision medicine approach, which takes these factors into account, combining cellular, genetic and biochemical science to design drugs that target a disease’s specific checkpoints, without turning on an adverse autoimmune response.
At Dr. Ware’s lecture, the impact of lifestyle and diet on immunity was a hot button topic among the crowd.
“What can we do to boost our immune systems? You often hear about yogurts or fermented foods that claim to enhance immunity,” inquired attendee Jane Farr.
Dr. Ware recommended eating healthy is always a good choice, and reminded Jane and the audience that many of these claims lack scientific evidence, further emphasizing the importance of the Center’s therapeutic-oriented research.
Jane shared how as a six-year cancer patient on clinical trials, she values the progress of biomedical science and gains made by wielding the immune system.
“I’m also thrilled to be in the presence of a caring and informed community of supporters that encourages me,” said Jane.
Community support and the bravery of trial participants enable SBP through its research programs to harness the immune system as an effective strategy in therapeutics discovery.