Dr. Amorette Barber, assistant professor of biology, discussed her research and expertise in immunology during an AMA (ask me anything) session on Reddit. Here are six things we learned from her AMA:
Dr. Amorette Barber's Immunology (and Personal) Facts
New developments in T cells are going to revolutionize the field of cancer therapy.
Dr. Barber: [Researchers] have developed some interesting new ways to make an “off-the-shelf” version of T cells (MHC-negative) that would allow for the injection of these T cells into any person, including HIV patients who do not have many T cells of their own.
In many clinical trials, immunotherapy, which Dr. Barber studies, is quite expensive and has to be highly personalized. She thinks this may change in the future.
Dr. Barber: There have been some interesting new developments in trying to make sets of T cells…that would reduce the need for this type of therapy to be as personalized. With this new development, I think in the future, it would be possible to have T cells available that have various specificities on the “shelf.”
With better “eyeglasses” to recognize different types of cancer cells, immunotherapy has the potential to work on multiple types of diseases.
Dr. Barber: For future immunotherapies, I think the trick will be to find a target that is similar between many tumor types. . . . For T cell therapies, I personally think it might be better to stay away from targeting specific mutations and to target proteins expressed on many tumor types … This way one therapy could possibly be effective against multiple types of tumors.
Her research has the potential to provide better treatments for AIDS and other autoimmune disease patients.
Dr. Barber: By activating and culturing T cells, and then giving these back to a patient, you can then provide the patient with a new set of T cells which can hopefully be long-lived and help to fight infection.
It is also feasible that it could work with cancers such as leukemia.
Dr. Barber: In leukemia, the tumor cell is a cell of the immune system itself, if you reprogram the patient’s T cells to recognize the leukemia cells, it should work the same way.