Big Ideas

Jamie Spangler, Ph.D.

Immunotherapy, the science of using the body’s immune system to fend off disease, is one of the most exciting trends in cancer research. Jamie Spangler, Ph.D., of The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, developed a fascination with the topic during her graduate and postdoctoral studies. Spangler, a 2018 V Scholar, is developing new therapeutics that will activate the immune system against cancer. The goal is to reprogram immune proteins so they will specifically target diseases.

 “I was so excited to learn about the ways to harness the power of the immune system to treat disease, particularly about the possibility of engineering the immune system to fight cancer,” said Spangler. “Now, my research introduces a new therapeutic approach that can inspire the design of other targeted protein drugs.”

Proteins can play many roles when the immune system responds to a threat, and certain proteins can be designed to target disease and effect more durable responses in the body. That’s where Spangler is focused. “My lab is developing molecular therapeutics that activate the immune system against cancer,” explained Spangler. “Using natural immune proteins as a starting point, my lab reprograms them to induce targeted stimulation of the immune response.”

In the past, a major challenge in this type of research has been these restructured proteins causing toxicity by not targeting the proper cells. Spangler has overcome this by ensuring the structural and molecular properties of the protein are engineered to provide specific and powerful anti-cancer activity.

“Traditionally, immune diseases were thought to be restricted to conditions such as infection and autoimmune disorders,” said Spangler. “Now, the role of the immune response in cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, and many other conditions is becoming increasingly apparent. The beauty of our immunotherapy-based approach is that this would be effective across a wide range of cancer types through activation of the patient’s own immune system,” said Spangler.

While this is all still in the research stage, Spangler said she is hopeful it will eventually be translated into the clinic, so this strategy can be integrated with other therapies currently being used to treat cancer.

And while Spangler’s focus lies in immunotherapy, she realizes we need a collection of new ideas in many areas of focus. “To me, the future of cancer research is a mosaic of interdisciplinary strategies all conspiring together to outsmart the disease. Cancer is a moving target, but if we compile the proper mix of ammunition, we are capable of not only controlling, but of eradicating disease.”

With more bright minds receiving continued funding of new and exciting ideas, we will achieve Victory Over Cancer ®. And what would that look like to Spangler? “Victory over cancer would manifest in the confidence of every diagnosed patient that they will overcome the disease and go on to live a happy, healthy, and productive life free of cancer.”