Perking up the Body’s Immune System to Help Fight off Cancer – Dr. Xiang

Dr. Xiang’s lab is participating in two cancer research projects, both focused on perking up the body’s immune system to help fight off cancer.

“It’s an exciting story. Our technique is unique. We have the basis, the experience, the protocol and the animal tumour model,” said Dr. Jim Xiang, Senior Research Scientist with the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency. “No matter if it’s pancreatic cancer, colon cancer or kidney cancer, we want to help the clinicals. We can do it.”

For the first project, Dr. Xiang’s group has teamed up with Dr. Michael Moser, a surgeon with expertise in irreversible electroporation (Nanoknife), Dr. Chris Zhang, an engineer who designed the Nanoknife, and pathologist Dr. Rajni Chibbar. In this project, they are testing tumour ablation (minimally invasive procedure that destroys abnormal tissue) therapy for pancreatic cancer, capable of massive killing of tumour cells via making numerous holes in each cell membrane by electronic pulsing. One of the major challenges of tumour ablation therapy is that most cancers still show local recurrence or distant organ metastases (secondary malignant growths at a distance from the primary site). A key post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Xiang’s lab, Dr. Aizhang Xu, supported by a fellowship from the Agency, is testing the effectiveness of immune boosting injections into the tumour to stimulate the body’s own immune cells to kill the cancer cells remaining after the Nanoknife procedure. The goal is to completely eliminate the cancer cells to prevent both the local recurrence and distant organ metastases after Nanoknife ablation therapy.

“Our goal is to find a way to get a better T-cell response which may reduce tumour recurrence or inhibit the long-distance metastasis after ablation therapy,” says Dr. Xiang. “Clinically, you don’t know where the tumour cells go. These T cells will find and attack them.”

In the second project, a receptor called HER2 is located on the surface of about 20% of breast cancers and these patients can benefit from anti-HER2 antibody therapy, known as Herceptin or Trastuzumab. Unfortunately, many HER2 breast cancers develop resistance to these treatments. Dr. Xiang’s lab is developing a novel immune boosting therapy called EXO-T, capable of stimulating the body’s T cells (immune cells) to fight against HER2-expressing breast cancer cells. With this discovery, a new therapy could be available for treatment-resistant HER2-breast cancers in the future.

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