Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy

Anna DeVries
Graduate Student, Biomedical Sciences Program-Cancer Biology Concentration

The immune system is equipped with an intrinsic ability to recognize and eliminate tumor cells. When imbalance and disorder arise in an ecosystem of uncontrolled growth, cancerous cells escape immune surveillance. Immunotherapy aims at reeducating and equipping the immune system to bring back order and destroy developing cancer. The relationship between the immune system and cancer changes over time and differs depending on the tumor type. Each immune phenotype benefits from different immunotherapeutic strategy. Some approaches under clinical investigation include immune checkpoint inhibitors, oncolytic viral therapy, adoptive cellular therapy, CAR T-cell therapy, and cancer vaccines. Each one tackles the imbalance from a different angle. Cancer vaccines, in particular, have made significant strides in the last decade. Patients desperately need innovative strategies to fight this complex ever-evolving disease. One novel therapeutic vaccine strategy is to package tumor specific mRNA into a positively charged, multilayer lipid-particle vaccine. In essence, the vaccine triggers an anti-viral type of response by making the tumor look like an invading pathogen. This type of immunotherapy can manipulate a robust immune response against tumor cells residing under immune ignorance or immune tolerance.

Anna DeVries is a fourth year Ph.D. student in the Biomedical Science program at the University of Florida. She studies cancer immunotherapy in Dr. Elias Sayour’s lab within the Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program. Her thesis is centered around unraveling the mechanism of an mRNA nanoparticle vaccine with the ultimate goal of improving the vaccine’s clinical efficacy.

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