Dr. Stuart Edmonds
Executive Vice President of Mission, Canadian Cancer Society
Immunotherapy showing promise for new treatments.
Can we use immune cells in our body to kill cancer?
It’s an intriguing strategy Dr. Ryan Wylie, Assistant Professor at McMaster University, is pursuing. He and his team are looking at using healthy cells in the immune system, called T cells, to fight prostate cancer. The dream? Turning prostate cancer into a chronic disease, like high cholesterol, that you can control over the long-term with drugs without significant side effects or damage to the rest of your body.
The role of T cells
Every human has T cells as part of their immune system. One of the cells’ primary jobs is to kill other cells that could cause harm, such as those that are infected with a virus or are cancerous. Dr. Wylie is testing a new method that harnesses T cells to attack cancer cells. If this approach works, it could lead to drugs that will give men more time, as well as fewer side effects than current treatments, drastically increasing quality of life.
“Our current immunotherapy drugs are limited because they don’t only target cancer cells. Often, they also kill healthy cells, triggering potentially fatal side effects,” Dr. Wylie says.
“By forcing T cells to target prostate cancer cells and not healthy cells, we can decrease side effects and treat patients with higher doses to improve their outcomes.”
Our current immunotherapy drugs are limited because they don’t only target cancer cells.Dr. Ryan Wylie, Assistant Professor at McMaster University
The future of immunotherapy in prostate cancer
Dr. Wylie hopes this research will lead to drugs that can be given to men with advanced prostate cancer on a long-term basis. The drugs would have fewer complications and help men live longer, better lives with cancer. Prostate cancer could become a chronic disease — with drugs taken for years to keep the cancer at bay without the toxic side effects of today’s drugs that limit the length of time they can be used. He says, “We’d like to see prostate cancer become a disease that men can live with. One that can be manageable long-term without life-altering side effects.”
“With this type of immunotherapy, we’re hopeful that men could stay on drugs for a longer period of time and be better able to control the cancer spreading.”
This project is proudly funded by Movember and was awarded by Prostate Cancer Canada as part of the Discovery Grant program. In 2019, this was one of ten projects awarded through the program to save and improve more lives of those facing prostate cancer. On February 1, 2020, Prostate Cancer Canada and the Canadian Cancer Society amalgamated. The newly unified organization is continuing important research like Dr. Wylie’s to make a difference for Canadians affected by prostate cancer.