In many ovarian cancer patients, initial response to chemotherapy is good and the tumor will shrink or go away. However, in a number of patients, a few cancer cells remain in their body at the end of what looks like successful therapy and within two years the cancer will recur. Limited treatment options are available for patients with relapses.
One emerging treatment of relapsed cancer is to try to improve the patient’s own immune system to fight their cancer. There are different types of cells in the immune system, but one of the more important types that protect against cancer is the T cell. T cells are immune cells that help fight off colds and viruses and are thought to help fight off cancers as well. But a certain type of T cell in cancer patients, called the regulatory T cell, seems to prevent the killing of tumor cells. Dr. Barnett’s group has shown that large numbers of these regulatory T cells, or T-regs for short, predict poor survival in ovarian cancer. So rather than helping to kill the tumor, it looks like these T-regs are killing the body’s killer cells, similar to friendly fire, when soldiers shoot their fellow soldiers not the enemy.
Dr. Barnett is conducting a clinical trial using a targeted drug to selectively take out those bad actor T cells that look like they are preventing cancer tumor immunity. The goal: to allow the immune system to recover and attack those last few tumor cells.