UVA researchers make discovery that could help cancer treatments

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Posted at 9:04 PM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-05 22:24:24-04

CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Dr. Bruce Waldholtz is a gastroenterologist based in Chesapeake, fighting colon cancer on the front lines.

“You look and you see something there and you know that that patient's life is changed forever, and in fact, it may be very limited in terms of years,” Waldholtz told News 3.

“We are not where we need to be with treatments for colorectal cancer,” he added. “We need better chemotherapy, better immunotherapy, less toxic and more directed therapy.”

Dr. Jogi Singh and others at the UVA Cancer Center are speaking on new research that could help rescue immunotherapies for solid cancer tumors that failed in human clinical trials, including ovarian, colon and triple negative breast cancer.

“Immunotherapy, CAR T therapy, is very successful for liquid tumors. Leukemia, lymphoma, melanoma. It does not work on solid tumors,” Singh said. “There is one big obstacle, and that obstacle is the immune system cannot get into the tumor. That is why they don't work.”

“What we have discovered is a way to break apart, to open up these solid tumors [and] to allow the immune system to go in,” he added.

The findings have helped increase effectiveness in lab models, shrinking tumor size and improving overall survival.

“By using protein engineering, or antibody engineering-based approaches, we have now combined a two-pronged antibody,” Singh said. “What we have discovered has this potential. Huge potential, I believe, to increase the efficacy of these immune-harvesting therapies to solid tumors.”

As for Waldholtz, he believes this potentially is hope for improved cancer treatment in the future.

“As somebody who has spent the last 38 years now being involved in patients with colon cancer, it's really gratifying to see how rapidly that discoveries are being made,” Waldholtz said. “If an agent can hit the market and really extend disease-free survival, extend life without the loss of quality of life, that would be a game changer.”