UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center Magazine Spring 2017 - Page 7

Much of the Cancer Center’s immunotherapy research is due through the Inflammation, Immunology, and Immunotherapeutics Research Program, led by Drs. Donald Buchsbaum (left) and Troy Randall (above). cancer cells to the macrophages and how this conversation plays out. The hedgehog pathway permits for the formation of blood vessels, which allows the tumor cells an escape route from their primary location and to metastasize to secondary organs. The ultimate goal of her research is to determine if hedgehog inhibitors, currently in clinical trials and FDA-approved for some cancers, can be used to reverse that polarization and turn those tumor-associated macrophages from allies to foes. “Metastasis and immunotherapy research go hand in hand,” Dr. Samant says. “Essentially what we are doing is trying to understand the foundational basis of what happens and how the tumor is changing its own immune compartment.” “The concept of using immunotherapy dates as far back as the late 1800s,” Dr. Buchsbaum says. “It’s incredibly exciting that a century-plus later we have real evidence that we can put into practice.” Looking Ahead Going forward, immunotherapy will play an increasingly important role in the research and treatment of many diseases, particularly cancer. Both UAB and the Cancer Center have placed an increased focus on precision medicine, an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account environment factors, lifestyle and genetic history for each individual receiving medical care. Much of that relies on genomic testing and analysis, which has historically played a key role in immunotherapy research. “The original work that identified the expression of the MHC II pathway was done through genomic analysis,” says Dr. Buchsbaum. “If you can identify gene expression in the tumor associated with positive immunotherapy responses, then you can select the patients to treat. That’s precision medicine.” Research continues to identify genomic factors and biomarkers associated with patients who demonstrate positive immune responses to certain cancer treatments and those who do not. Scientists across the United States – including UAB – are conducting both pre-clinical and clinical studies examining how to convert patients who are non-responsive to treatment to patients who are responsive through the use of immunotherapy alone or in combination with other therapies. “Ultimately, our work is all about the patient,” says Cancer Center director Ed Partridge, M.D. “Immunotherapy is one of the most important and fastest- growing fields in cancer research and treatment, and it has tremendous potential to change the way we treat this disease. What’s more personalized than using a person’s own immune system to effectively treat his or her cancer? I’m proud that our center is actively involved in this fight.” # K N O W U A B C C C • U A B . E D U / C A N C E R 5