BAR HARBOR, MAINE — Most people are familiar with traditional cancer treatments such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, but many aren’t as familiar with next-generation cancer therapies that, because they target cancer cells more precisely, are better tolerated by patients and lead to improved outcomes.
Indeed, these new therapies are a contributing factor in a significant increase in cancer survivorship. The percent of cancer survivors living five years or longer after diagnosis was 69.3 in 2009, the most recent year for which there are statistics, according to the National Cancer Institute — up from less than 50 percent in 1975.
These figures put the trend on track to meet a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services target of 71.7 percent by 2020, and augur improved health for many of the more than 1.7 million people diagnosed with cancer in the United States each year.
The role of next-generation therapies in cancer treatment will be the subject of a March 11 MDI Science Café entitled “The Frontiers of Cancer Research” by cancer biologist/immunologist Muneer G. Hasham, Ph.D. In his talk, Hasham will draw on his research on new cancer therapies at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.
The café, which is offered through the MDI Biological Laboratory, will be held at 5 p.m. at the Maine Center for Biomedical Innovation on the campus of the MDI Biological Laboratory at 159 Old Bar Harbor Road in Bar Harbor.
“My hope for the future is that cancer will no longer be a death sentence,” he said. “Rather, a patient will get sick, get treatment and get better. We will always develop cancer as long as cells are replicating and mutating within our bodies. What we need to do is to learn to manage it, just as we have learned to manage asthma, or fever.”
The next-generation therapies Hasham will talk about include:
- Immunotherapy — The immune system routinely eliminates cancer cells, but some cancer cells can trick the immune system into ignoring them or even into giving them a helping hand. Immunotherapy makes these cells easier to find while also reinforcing the immune system’s ability to destroy them.
- Genetically targeted chemotherapy — Many cancer patients don’t respond to chemotherapy. The goal of genetically targeted chemotherapy is to remove the guesswork — and reduce time spent on treatments that don’t work — by using genetic information from a patient’s cancer cells to guide better treatment.
- Oncolytic virus therapy — Oncolytic virus therapy uses viruses that have the capability to target cancer cells. These viruses are considered by some to be a form of immunotherapy since they also mobilize the immune system to defend the body against cancer.
- Combination therapy — Rather than sequentially trying various treatment options until the patient responds, combination therapy — also called multi-modal therapy — combines treatment approaches from the outset of treatment. The combined effect can extend survival longer than an individual option on its own.
Hasham grew up in Tanzania where he attended an international school, which is the equivalent of a U.S. high school. After attending Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, on scholarship, he earned a doctorate in microbiology and immunology from Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
After graduate school, he returned to the state he loves to complete his post-doctoral training at The Jackson Laboratory, and later worked as research scientist in the laboratory of Nadia Rosenthal, Ph.D. He is now study director of the patient derived xenograft program, and has his own cancer research program.
His research interests include immune disorders and cancer pathogenesis and therapeutics.
MDI Science Cafés are offered in fulfillment of the institution’s mission to promote scientific literacy and increase public engagement with science. The popular events offer a chance to hear directly from speakers about trends in science. Short presentations delivered in everyday language are followed by lively, informal discussion.
For more information, please visit mdibl.org/events/ or call 207-288-3147.
About the MDI Biological Laboratory
We are pioneering new approaches to regenerative medicine focused on developing drugs that slow age-related degenerative diseases and activate our natural ability to heal. Our unique approach has identified potential therapies that could revolutionize the treatment of heart disease, muscular dystrophy and more. Through the Maine Center for Biomedical Innovation, we are preparing students for 21st century careers and equipping entrepreneurs with the knowledge, skills and resources needed to turn discoveries into applications that improve human health and well-being. For more information, please visit mdibl.org.