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Investing in immunotherapy

26 November 2019

When Dr Brad Nelson, director and distinguished scientist of the Deeley Research Centre, BC Cancer Agency, switched his focus from neuroscience to cancer research, his gut told him that the immune system could play a major role in treating cancer.

Nearly 30 years later, Dr Nelson is a leader in the rapidly growing field of immunotherapy research, and incredible advances in the field are proving that his hunch was spot on.

Immunotherapy explores how the immune system can be used to control cancer and how this can lead to new treatments. Dr Nelson’s innovative research is opening up new possibilities for treating cancer and saving lives.

In ongoing projects funded by the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), Dr Nelson and his team are working to develop new immunotherapy treatments for lymphoma (a type of blood cancer) and ovarian cancer.

“Many people with cancer have immune cells called T cells that can recognize and attack their cancer cells. The T cells do this by specifically looking for DNA markers that are unique to the cancer cells,” says Dr Nelson.

However, the potential of T cells to become an effective treatment is hampered by the fact that they are often inactive and in low numbers. To address this challenge, Dr Nelson and his team have devised a way to isolate cells from a person’s blood and grow them to large numbers in the lab. These concentrated T-cell infusions can then be given back to the person as a therapy to treat their cancer. With CCS support, the researchers are now laying the groundwork for the world’s first clinical trial to test these mutation-targeting T cells in people with lymphoma.

“There’s never been a better time to invest in cancer research,” says Dr Nelson. “To bring any new cancer treatment to people with cancer always starts with donor dollars. Every dollar invested now is going to pay off tenfold in the near term and for future generations.”

This holiday season, you can join CCS supporters across the country by giving a Gift of Immunotherapy Research, which will help fund promising immunotherapy research like Dr Nelson’s.