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Research Focus

Tumor Microenvironment

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Opportunity

For immune therapies to work long-term and on solid tumors, we need to better understand the hostile tumor microenvironment.

CHARGE

To better characterize the tumor microenvironment and engineer solutions that will enable immune therapies to persist and defeat hard-to-treat solid tumors.

In studying the body’s own defense against cancer, scientists that took images of T-cells attacking tumors often found T-cells stuck on the periphery, unable to infiltrate the tumor to destroy it. Others observed that T-cells perished when sent off to fight solid tumors, such as lymphomas and sarcomas.

Now scientists know that the surroundings of a tumor, or the microenvironment, can inhibit T-cells from defending the body and even kill T-cells through a variety of mechanisms. For example, the tumor microenvironment lacks oxygen and nutrients, essentially starving and smothering T-cells. Faced with these challenges, activated T-cells cannot multiply as well or produce enough of the enzymes and other chemicals they use to kill cancer cells.

“In order for many cancer immune therapies such as checkpoint inhibitors and CAR-T cells to work effectively, it will be critical to understand exactly how the tumor microenvironment functions and how to overcome the barriers it poses.”

There is also evidence that the tumor microenvironment may disable pathways that allow immunotherapy drugs like checkpoint inhibitors to operate successfully in shutting down cancer. This roadblock may be one reason those cancer treatments do not effectively work in more patients. In order for many cancer immune therapies such as checkpoint inhibitors and CAR-T cells to work effectively, it will be critical to understand exactly how the tumor microenvironment functions and how to overcome the barriers it poses.

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy supports innovative basic research of the tumor microenvironment. Along with industry and academic research partners, we will also seek out ways to overcome those roadblocks so that immunotherapy treatments can eradicate cancer in more patients.

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