When a foreign microorganism enters the body, a network of organs, cells, and antibodies works together to combat the invader and protect the body from infection and disease. Similarly, a network of researchers in the Jin Lab at the Perelman School of Medicine has been working together to understand disease prevention in the human body, specifically focused on finding a cure for cancer.
The lab, led by Chengcheng Jin, an assistant professor of cancer biology and microbiology, is investigating how the immune system co-evolves with tumors during cancer progression. While the immune system’s job is to help the body fight all types of harmful cells including bacteria and viruses, it can often fail when it goes up against cancer cells, which can emerge due to hereditary or environmental factors, like chemicals or radiation. The Jin Lab wants to understand why the immune system is not only failing to fight the cancer, but also actually promoting its growth.
“Cancer is a devastating disease, especially for the type of cancer we’re studying in the lab: lung cancer,” says Jin. “From a scientific point of view, cancer is a very unique disease to investigate, and can lead us to better understanding how the immune system works.”
A key element of Jin’s research is her attention to myeloid cells, the most abundant immune cells in multiple cancer types that play a pivotal role in cancer progression. For instance, myeloid cells can mediate tissue remodeling to form tumors in the body, as well as drive inflammation in the immune system to stimulate tumor growth. With her lab, Jin aims to target these cells and reprogram them in the tumor microenvironment to revert, rather than support, tumor growth. They hope this work will lead to more effective cancer therapies in the future that harness this part of the immune system to help.
“There have been a lot of groundbreaking developments and successes in cancer research in recent years, but still, only a minority of cancer patients—20-40%—respond to current immunotherapy,” says Jin. “The biggest challenge is understanding why the immune system is ultimately failing patients, and how we can target this process to improve cancer therapy.”
This story is by Julie Wood. Read more at Penn Medicine News.