Dysregulation of immune function is widely regarded as a key mechanism underlying many human diseases, and immunotherapy in recent years has been a game changer for the management of various conditions, especially in cancer. The Sun Lab is interested in developing an immunotherapeutic approach for the treatment of solid tumors (such as brain cancer) where current immunotherapies have seen little success.
The immune system plays a central role in safeguarding our body from microbial invasion as well as preventing tumor formation. Normally, the immune cells are able to seek and destroy cancerous cells at the early stage of tumorigenesis. However, this ability is dramatically downplayed within the microenvironment of a solid tumor where tumor cells can alter the behavior of many types of stromal cells through immunoediting, and create an extremely immunosuppressive environment to facilitate tumor development.
To address this challenge, we take advantage of certain immune cell’s natural ability to migrate to the tumor site, and engineer those cells to enhance their anti-tumor function as well as their ability to turn on the immune system in the tumor microenvironment. The principle of this approach is to restore the intrinsic anti-tumorigenic function of our immune system by switching the immunologically “cold” tumor environment into an immunologically “hot” cancer battleground. Engaging such bioengineered immune cells with the currently available cancer treatment would likely change the paradigm of solid tumor treatment.
Meanwhile, we are also interested in understanding the role of immune dysregulation in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, and developing novel immunotherapies to restore the imbalanced immune system in the CNS with a hope to slow down (or stop) the progression of neurodegeneration.
As a molecular biologist by training, my career in cancer research started when I did my postdoc research in neuro-oncology at Washington University in St. Louis following a two-year adventure in the biotech industry. At that time, my main work was focused on understanding the sex differences in brain tumor biology. At Cedars-Sinai, I am currently developing an immunotherapy for the treatment of solid tumors, such as glioblastoma. I am also interested in exploring the ability of our immune system to modify the progression of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
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