Twenty-five years ago a nationally renowned cancer expert told George Weiner there was little future in cancer treatments using a particular kind of immunology from cloned antibodies. Now, as director of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa, he is at the forefront of finding targeted ways to treat a variety of cancers. Weiner and Keith Knutson, a professor of immunology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, discussed the latest in cancer research at the Ignite the Cancer Conversation event Thursday night in Cedar Falls.
“There’s going to be a revolution. We’re going to see lots of activity over the next couple of decades, and we’re going to see some tremendous cures, some tremendous activity from a lot of new drugs,” Knutson said.
Weiner stressed the multiple ways research has advanced over the last 25 years on monoclonal antibodies to both target cancer cells and boost the impact of cancer-fighting cells.
“We’re learning more. Almost weekly a new paper is coming out, a new study, helping us understand how this can work, how to combine it with other treatments and we’re just on the cusp of a real revolution of learning how to use these checkpoint blockade antibodies,” Weiner said.
He said those antibodies will help doctors find and remove the “Invisibility cloak” on certain cancer cells.
Knutson talked about progress, particularly when it comes to vaccines to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer.
“What we know is that the immune system is exceedingly powerful, and now we can negotiate through all of the fine detail of the immune system in order to get it to act how we want it to act, specifically against the cancer,” Knutson said.
He said work has begun on vaccines to prevent cancers in at-risk people before they form. Knutson said clinical trials suggest cancer can be prevented, but vaccines must be improved to be effective. Christine Carpenter, an advocate with the local Beyond Pink Team, made the case for the importance of being a voice to prevent and end cancer.
“Cancer is a political issue. Policymakers determine almost every aspect of cancer, such as funding for cancer research, access to quality care and regulations affecting the health care systems. That is why advocacy is so important,” Carpenter stated.
The event was billed as a conversation, and following the presentations facilitators at each table worked to begin a dialogue about research, advocacy and access to treatment. The conversation will now continue online with the newly formed Facebook “Ignite the Cancer Conversation” group.