U of A Research Team Hopes to Use Molecular Inhibitors to Boost Immunity in Cancer-Battling Patients

Professor Khaled Barakat, University of Alberta professor, and his team have spent the last four years trying to develop that he’s calling a “magic” pill, a drug that strengthen peoples’ immune systems while they are battling cancer.

Barakat’s Comments

“The concept, it’s kind of magic because it’s not related to a specific type of cancer, it’s using the human’s immune system to identify and find and discover the cancer and try to get rid of it. So this is what we think is magic,” said Barakat, whose research was made possible thanks to funding from the Alberta Cancer Foundation and the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology.

CBC reports “Barakat says cancer attacks the body first by suppressing peoples’ immune systems. It does this by creating an abundance of receptors called immune checkpoints; when too many are made it deactivates T-cells, which are crucial to the immune system.”

“When these T-cells are reactivated, what they do is look for cancer and they try to fight it and employ the different tools of the immune system to target these cancer cells and get rid of them,” said Barakat.

Unique Challenges

One challenge the team faces is making sure the drug doesn’t strengthen the autoimmune system beyond its normal level.  When that happens, it creates autoimmune diseases and hypersensitivity reactions — prompting the immune system to start attacking cancer tissues and normal tissues.

According to Barakat, the concept has been tested and proven for advanced melanoma, lung cancer, and prostate cancer.

The Next Step

Barakat’s next steps include acquiring a partner, such as a pharmaceutical company, to assist in maximizing their currently limited research capabilities. After that, it’s on to animal trials and clinical trials.

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