"The Sontag Foundation award will help us achieve our goal to understand how cancer stem cells modulate the immune system and use this information to develop novel immunotherapies for malignant brain tumors."
- Dr. Justin Lathia
- Associate Professor, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Cleveland Clinic
- Assistant Professor of Molecular Medicine, Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine
About DSA-Funded Research
The immune system helps maintain the normal brain by responding to changes during disease, including cancer. However, tumors often contain cells that inhibit the natural immune response against cancer. Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most frequently occurring malignant brain tumor and has a median survival time of only 12-14 months. Because the immune system is repressed in patients with GBM, there is a strong interest in developing immunotherapy treatments. For these therapies to be effective, it is essential to understand how immune cells interact with cancer cells, including cancer stem cells (CSCs), a therapeutically resistant population of cancer cells able to produce both new copies of themselves and other, more mature cell types. Our goal is to understand how CSCs interact with immunosuppressive cells and how this interaction suppresses immune function in the tumor. We have observed immunosuppressive cells located near CSCs and identified a factor that is released by CSCs and aids immunosuppressive cell survival and function. When we used 5-fluorouracil, a common chemotherapy used for other cancers, to inhibit immunosuppressive cells, we observed that tumors took longer to form in mice. Furthermore, these mice mounted a functional immune response against the tumor cells. We will test the hypothesis that CSCs decrease the anti-tumor immune response by releasing a secreted factor that stimulates immunosuppressive cells. We will also test how targeting immunosuppressive cells with chemotherapy and radiation affects GBM in mouse models. These studies will evaluate the efficacy of targeting immunosuppressive cells with therapies that can rapidly be integrated into clinical GBM treatment.
"To advance human health and make a long-lasting impact on science, it takes an unconventional combination of hard work, dedication, innovation, and multidisciplinary thinking. Very few individuals possess this rare combination, but among them is Dr. Justin Lathia."
G. Yancey Gillespie, Ph.D.
UAB SPORE in Neurological Cancer
"Not only does Justin demonstrate intelligence, a high energy level, enthusiasm, and inquistitive nature but also demonstrates a wonderful scientific maturity and remarkable leadership."
Jeremy N. Rich, M.D., MHSc