Tucked away in a lab on the sixth floor of Hollings Cancer Center, Jennifer Wu and her team spend their long days — and some holiday weekends — trying to figure out how to improve immunotherapy treatments for cancer patients.
Immunotherapy is an emerging field in cancer care. And it holds much promise. Some patients with advanced cancers have been basically cured of their disease after taking these drugs. But they don't work for everyone.
Despite the promise that immunotherapy drugs hold in this field, fewer than half of cancer patients respond to them.
Wu wants to change that.
Doctors who treat patients at Hollings often say that immunotherapy drugs "take the brakes off" the body's immune system, prompting the body's own immune response to attack cancer cells.
But what if the car's gas tank is empty? What if the engine needs repair?
"If you have no gas, no power, it does not matter if you take your foot off the brake. It's not going to work," Wu said. "Basically, we're working where the fuel is, not where the brakes are," Wu said.
She has received millions of dollars in federal grants to advance her research. She hopes to bring a drug she's developed to clinical trial soon.
"I'm thrilled about that," she said.