Tumors have elaborate mechanisms that prevent recognition and destruction by a host immune system. For instance, ovarian cancer can escape the immune system by fostering a highly suppressive environment in the peritoneal cavity, the fluid-filled gap between the wall of the abdomen and the organs within the abdomen. Some scientists believe tilting the balance from an immune-suppressive to an immune-active environment may be required for effective ovarian cancer therapy. In his study, Dr. Zhang is focusing on a protein called CD73 on the surface of ovarian cancer cells, which seems to prevent immune cells, called T cells, from attacking tumor cells. While CD73 is present on most tissues, too many copies of it are on ovarian cancer cells. In a mouse model of ovarian cancer, Dr. Zhang has used certain chemicals to reduce levels of CD73 and was able to improve T cells’ ability to fight the tumor. When he lowered CD73 and increased T cell activity, he was able to cure tumor-bearing mice. In his research, he aims to elucidate how CD73 suppresses the immune response and what kind of treatments may be developed to counteract it.
Dr. Bin Zhang is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in Hematology and Medical Oncology, Cancer Therapy & Research Center, at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Zhang received his M.D. from West China University of Medical Science, and his Ph.D. from the National Laboratory of Experimental Hematology, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College. He was further well-trained at the University of Chicago, supported by a highly competitive postdoctoral fellowship from The Cancer Research Institute (New York). Dr. Zhang’s current research focuses on mechanisms by which ovarian tumor cells escape recognition and elimination by the immune system. The long-term goal is to develop immunotherapeutic strategies that will mobilize the patient’s own immune system to recognize tumor cells and eliminate them.