How Can a Cancer-fighting Tool Also Fight Bacterial Infections?

Marcos Pires, PhD, assistant professor at Lehigh University, explains how augmenting the immune system's bacterial detection process can help fight infections.

Marcos Pires, PhD, assistant professor at Lehigh University, explains how augmenting the immune system's bacterial detection process can help fight infections.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability)

“Immunotherapy, in a way, is nothing new. It actually traces back to over a hundred years ago, but these [were] more rudimentary types of immunotherapy. For a long time, there was this hope that immunotherapy [could] be a way to go after cancers and tumors; [however] it went through a series of failures, but starting probably five years ago, I think the field realized that they were starting to understand what buttons to push and press. Now, this area has completely changed; immunotherapy for anti-cancer treatment is now probably considered the most promising tool to go after tumors and cancers.

We view our work as taking a page from the playbook of the cancer field, where they decided to ask the question, ‘why can’t we use the immune system to go after tumors?’ After all, if a patient has cancer or a tumor, the immune system really [isn’t] going to wait, it’s still potent. The question became ‘what’s keeping the immune system from going after the cancer?’ Once those questions were unraveled, then it became clear that, 1. the immune system is actually potent enough to go after tumors, and 2. there are certain elements that are at play that were holding the immune system back.

Along these lines we asked the same questions for bacteria, ‘why is it that the immune system isn’t going after bacteria during infection?’ [The immune system] is built to do that, [but] it holds back. How we approach this is that we think it needs a little help, and if we can get over that hump, and the hump that we like to design around is, the detection: it appears that there is a break in the detection of the bacteria, and so that’s where we try to come in and augment the detection. We believe that if we can do that, perhaps we can unleash this very potent response from the immune system.”