The Carson Lab is interested in research that leads to a better understanding of how the immune system responds to cancer and how to use this information to devise new treatments for patients with melanoma, breast cancer and other malignancies. Experimental results are translated into phase I and II clinical trials that are conducted at the OSUCCC – James. Patients enrolled in these studies volunteer to donate their blood and tumor tissue for analysis so that the immune mechanisms leading to tumor destruction can be studied first-hand. In all of this, there is an ingrained desire to educate and mentor the next generation of cancer scientists.
Combinations of immune treatments
Our group has studied the use of novel immune activating agents to augment the activity of monoclonal antibodies such as trastuzumab and cetuximab and man-made constructs targeting the folate receptor and tissue factor. Cytokines employed in this effort include interleukin-12, interleukin-15 and interleukin-21. Compounds that mimic bacterial danger signals are also an area of interest for their ability to enhance the immune response to cancer. A newer area of investigation is the use of drugs that can inhibit the activity of immune suppressor cells (the so-called “brakes” of the immune system). Our groups is especially interested in a class of suppressor cells known as myeloid-derived suppressor cells and have shown that drugs like ibrutinib (an inhibitor of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase) can markedly inhibit their function.
The quest to enhance the immune activity of targeted therapies
It is our deep belief that most if not all anti-cancer drugs have as a part of their mechanism the ability to enlist the aid of immune effector cells for the destruction of cancer cells. Therefore, another active area of interest is the use of immune treatments to augment the activity of targeted agents. The Carson Lab has explored novel combinations that have proteasome inhibitors (e.g., bortezomib), antiangiogenic agents (bevacizumab) and tyrosine kinase inhibitors (sorafenib) as their backbone. These studies have led to novel phase I studies open to patients with advanced cancer.
The effects of stress on the immune system of patients diagnosed with cancer
We hypothesize that stress can significantly inhibit the host immune response in the setting of cancer and have discovered that natural killer cell function provides an important “window” into this process. We are collaborating with Barbara Andersen, PhD, in the Department of Psychology, who is investigating the effects of behavioral and psychological interventions on the immune function of women with stage II and III breast cancer. Our goal is to define the mechanisms that underlie the altered immune response of cancer patients and explore ways to reverse this inhibition to enhance the effects of immune-based therapies.
MicroRNAs in melanoma
MicroRNAs are small RNA molecules that negatively regulate gene expression and are dysregulated in cancer. Due to their small size, they are not easily degraded and are thus relatively easy to measure in clinical materials. Our group has been measuring microRNAs in pre-malignant skin lesions, melanoma tumors and in the blood of melanoma patients to gain a better understanding of melanoma biology and develop better tools for diagnosing melanoma, predicting the response to new treatments and treating resistant disease.