Greg Michael Delgoffe, PhD: The Problem with Chemo, Radiation and Surgery

Year Funded: 2016

Greg Michael Delgoffe, PhD: The Problem with Chemo, Radiation and Surgery

“Cancer doesn’t stop. Cancer cells are constantly dividing and proliferating,” says Greg Michael Delgoffe, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh Department of Immunology (Pittsburgh, Pa.). “The problem with chemo, radiation and surgery is that they don’t always get it all [cancer cells]. On the other hand, a patient’s immune system has the power to find and destroy every last cancer cell.”

Leading the immune system’s charge are T cells. “Today, we have the know-how and the technology to genetically engineer T cells to target solid tumors,” says Dr. Delgoffe, “but they often fail to achieve success. The problem is once T cells are inside a solid tumor, many essentially starve to death because the tumor depletes available nutrients.”

“The majority of cancer patients do not have dormant immunity,” says Dr. Delgoffe, “so cell therapy augments and redirects a patient’s own system to fight cancer – but we need to provide additional help to allow the soldier T cells we create to thrive and do their job.”

Keeping T cells alive and well and able to successfully battle cancer is the goal of a new research initiative launched by Dr. Delgoffe with funding from the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT). “We’ve already identified the central problem – it’s a loss of functional mitochondria in the T cells,” says Dr. Delgoffe.

Dr. Delgoffe’s ACGT-funded study uses gene therapy to foster metabolic support for a person’s immune system by boosting the ability of T cells to persist and act. “We’re ‘turning on’ the mitochondria in T cells, those engines cells use to make energy and stay alive.”

“Metabolism is how we define life,” says Dr. Delgoffe. “This aspect of immune biology is relatively unappreciated, yet it’s what defines me.”

“My priority is not just advancing science, but translating that science into meaningful clinical therapeutics,” says Dr. Delgoffe. “and it’s been fantastic to have ACGT’s support. ACGT fueled my career trajectory. It came into my life when I was just getting my lab and my research off the ground. It’s an important part of what got me and my research where we are today.”

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