Megan Burger, PhD

Volunteer Grant funded by the V Foundation Wine Celebration in honor of Paul Dugoni and in memory of Lynn Dugoni

Cancer immune therapies that trigger the body’s own immune system to fight tumors have greatly improved cancer treatment over the last 10 years. Still, most patients do not benefit from this approach for reasons that remain unclear. The goal of our work is to determine what prevents the immune system from fighting cancer in order to design better immune therapies that can help more patients. Our studies focus on T cells, the immune cell type that plays the biggest role in killing tumor cells. T cells can kill cancer cells because cancer cells have mutations that T cells see as dangerous to the body. In theory, T cells that see different mutations should be able to work together to control tumors. However, our research has shown that T cells compete with each other to fight tumors and this greatly reduces the effectiveness of the T cell response. T cell competition may explain why some patients do not respond well to immune therapies. Our work is aimed at understanding why T cell competition occurs so that we can design immune therapies that promote T cooperation to better fight tumors. Our research will explore cancer vaccines as one potential treatment approach. We focus our studies on lung cancer, which causes the most cancer deaths each year, though we expect our results will be relevant to many cancer types. Findings from our work will allow development of more effective immune therapies for cancer patients that will decrease suffering from this terrible disease.

Location: OHSU Knight Cancer Institute - Portland
Proposal: Promoting T cell cooperation to improve cancer immunotherapy response
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