• Center for Immuno-Oncology

    Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Care

    The Center for Immuno-Oncology conducts clinical trials for a variety of cancers using immunotherapy. If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial, specialists from our Center will work with you and your treatment team to discuss whether immunotherapy may be an option for you.

    About the Center for Immuno-Oncology

    Center for Immuno-Oncology clinicians

    The Center for Immuno-Oncology (CIO) conducts clinical studies in one of the most exciting areas of cancer research today: unleashing the power of the body's immune system to detect and combat tumors. The Center aims to maximize the advances of immunotherapy and take advantage of the growing enthusiasm in the field, spurred by recent successes with vaccine therapies in prostate cancer and immune modulating monoclonal antibodies in malignant melanoma.

    Specialists are moving these immunotherapy strategies toward other cancers with the aim of optimizing treatment for a wide range of cancers. The Center fosters collaborative research among laboratory and clinical investigators in many different departments at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center (DF/BWCC).

    The Center helps Dana-Farber investigators take advantage of the explosion of interest in immuno-oncology and ensures that testing of these promising new agents is done in the smartest and safest manner.

    Longtime leadership in immunology

    Dana-Farber has a history of important discoveries about the immune system, laying the groundwork for today's promising developments in immunotherapy for cancer and other diseases.

    Former Dana-Farber President Baruj Benacerraf shared a Nobel Prize in 1980 for discovering genes that regulate the immune system's response to foreign antigens, and he recruited many young scientists who would become leaders in immunology. During the 1980s and 1990s, Dana-Farber investigators made a series of discoveries that increased understanding of the immune system and the roles of different types of specialized T cells. Research using monoclonal antibodies contributed to the development of Rituxan, a monoclonal antibody that became a mainstay of treatment for lymphoma.

    More recently, Dana-Farber scientists discovered proteins known as PD-1 and PD-L1 that cancer cells use to escape attack by the immune system. Currently, antibodies that block PD-1 and boost the immune defenses are showing great promise as treatments for melanoma and other cancers. Dana-Farber physician-scientists are leaders of clinical trials that have shown the effectiveness of Provenge, a vaccine for treating prostate cancer, and ipilimumab, a monoclonal antibody that is helping some patients with advanced melanoma survive for as long as 10 years.

    What is Immunotherapy?

    Immunotherapy refers to treatments that use the body's own immune system to combat diseases; immuno-oncology specifically involves immunotherapy directed at cancer.

    Immunotherapy includes a variety of treatments that work in different ways: some are intended to boost the immune system defenses in a general way; others help train the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells specifically. So far it appears that this type of treatment works better for some types of cancer than others. The immune system, which is a collection of organs, specialized cells and substances that protect against infectious organisms, can help protect against cancer. Often, however, cancer cells make themselves "invisible" to the immune system by masquerading as harmless body cells.

    Types of immunotherapy

    Cancer vaccines are substances given to people to prevent cancer from developing, or to treat existing cancers by strengthening and optimizing the body's immune response against the tumors. Examples of preventive cancer vaccines are those that protect against infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer and some other cancers, including cancers of the mouth and throat.

    The first cancer treatment vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010. Called Provenge, it is designed to stimulate an immune response against metastatic prostate cancer. Provenge is customized to each individual patient.

    Researchers are testing experimental treatment vaccines in a variety of cancers, including melanoma, brain tumors, breast cancer, kidney cancer, leukemia, and others.

    Cancer vaccines can be combined with other types of therapies.

    Monoclonal antibodies are synthetic copies of antibody proteins that exist in the immune system and whose job is to identify foreign invaders by binding to specific proteins called antigens on the surface of cells. After they bind, antibodies recruit other cells and substances of the immune system to attack the foreign cells.

    Researchers can make large numbers of identical (monoclonal) synthetic antibodies in the laboratory and give them to cancer patients. Monoclonal antibodies can be used to block so-called "checkpoint molecules," such as CTLA-4, PD-1, and PD-L1 and thereby "release the brake" from immune cells in order for these cells to kill tumor cells more effectively. Other monoclonal antibodies attach to and block antigens that cancer cells use to grow and spread. Still other monoclonal antibodies carry a radioactive substance, drug, or toxin that kills cancer cells that are recognized by the antibody.

    Your Treatment Team

    At Dana-Farber, your treatment team is based in one of the specialized disease centers for different types of cancers. You may be referred to the Center for Immuno-Oncology to discuss the possibility of participating in a clinical trial. In most cases, the clinical trials will be for patients who have already received standard treatments, and the CIO team will work closely with your physician at DF/BWCC or referring physician.

    The specialists in the CIO will discuss what immunotherapy is and why they think this may be an option for you. The treatments provided in the CIO are clinical trials, and are covered through major insurance.

    Center for Immuno-Oncology Specialists

    F. Stephen Hodi, MD, Director
    Patrick Ott, MD, PhD, Clinical Director
    Caryn Kata, RN, Research Nurse

    Contact Us

    For new patients or to refer a new patient, please call the New Patient Coordinator at 617-632-6869.

    Mailing address

    Center for Immuno-Oncology
    Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, D2-131
    450 Brookline Avenue
    Boston, MA 02215-5450

     
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