The Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR), part of Main Line Health, is currently investigating the link between the immune system’s response to cancer and pregnancy. As part of the study, funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, George Prendergast, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research, is developing drugs to attack the ability of cancer cells to escape destruction by the immune system.
“When a woman is pregnant, her immune system acts the same way as it would if she were to have cancer,” says Dr. Prendergast, who has helped pioneer a new type of cancer therapy called immunochemotherapy. “The immune system becomes dormant when a woman is pregnant so that it doesn’t harm the fetus. The same thing happens when a person has cancer—the immune system gets put to sleep so that it’s unable to attack the cancer cells. The question is, can we turn it back on and get it to fight?”
Dr. Prendergast’s research focuses on IDO, a molecule that, when switched on by cells, acts locally to shut down the immune system. Most types of cancer have active IDO present, cloaking them from immune detection. The purpose of the current clinical trials is to determine whether or not IDO can be suppressed by drugs as a strategy to reverse this process, thus re-awakening the immune system to attack the cancer cells. In earlier preclinical studies, Dr. Prendergast’s research team at LIMR showed that the new drugs they discovered to suppress IDO helped chemotherapy destroy cancers that were otherwise untreatable.
Clinical trials of the IDO suppressing drugs developed at LIMR are now about to enter the second phase of their testing at the Lankenau Medical Center. Based on promising results in preclinical and early clinical testing, the NIH has granted $1.3 million dollars to Dr. Prendergast’s team at LIMR to advance their work on this new principle of cancer immunochemotherapy.
The Lankenau Institute for Medical Research is a non-profit biomedical research organization located on the campus of Lankenau Medical Center. The organization is dedicated to advancing human health through research, technology transfer, and the education of the next generation of scientists and physicians.
Lankenau Medical Center, a member of Main Line Health, is recognized as a national leader in advancing new options to diagnose and treat illness, protect against disease and save lives. Located on a 93-acre suburban campus just outside of Philadelphia, the 389-bed, not-for-profit teaching hospital includes one of the nation’s leading cardiovascular centers; the Lankenau Institute of Medical Research, one of the few freestanding hospital-associated research centers in the nation; and the Annenberg Conference Center for Medical Education. Lankenau offers state-of-the-art services from cancer care to maternity care. Lankenau is ranked #14 in Pennsylvania and #10 in the Philadelphia metro area in US News & World Report’s Best Hospitals, and is high-performing in 12 of 16 potential categories: cancer, cardiology and heart surgery, diabetes and endocrinology, ear, nose and throat, gastroenterology and GI surgery, geriatrics, gynecology, nephrology, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopedics, pulmonology and urology. Lankenau has achieved The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for stroke care and breast cancer care and is one of the nation’s Top Performing Hospitals for heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical care. Lankenau has also been ranked for multiple years as one of the top 50 cardiovascular hospitals in the nation by Truven Health Analytics. The hospital has achieved MAGNET® designation, the nation’s highest award for excellence in nursing care. For more information about Lankenau Medical Center, visit mainlinehealth.org/lankenau.
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