Science in Action is a seminar series that introduces students to local academics in STEM and business fields. The talks are held in the STEM Center located in Building 7, Room 7-307. See the schedule of the series here.
On Monday, February 4, 2020, Founder and CEO of Eureka Therapeutics Dr. Cheng Liu talked about his company and product to over 55 students. Students and faculty alike learned about how scientists and entrepreneurs are using the body’s natural immune system to help cure cancer in the burgeoning field of precision medicine which was first proposed by Jim Allison who won a Nobel prize for the idea. In this idea, scientists remove a patient’s T cells in a process called Leukapheresis. These cells are then trained to recognize unique proteins that are present outside of the cancer cells. These unique markers target the cancer cells to be destroyed by the patient’s own immune system that has been trained to react and kill the cancer cells wherever they are in the body.
Dr. Liu’s seminar included electron micrographs that showed the genetically altered receptors that are all over the surface of the T cells. These receptors act like a net, that will capture then bind to the signal proteins on the cancer cells. The binding activates the T cells to kill the cancer cells while ignoring unmarked healthy cells that are right next to that cancer cell.
Dr. Liu explained how his company is using this Nobel Prize winning process to focus on Solid Tumor liver cells. Alpha Fetoprotein (AFP) has been shown to be elevated in patients with liver cancer and can be used as a marker to show the progression of the cancer. Dr Liu told the story of a Chinese oncologist who was near death from advanced stage liver cancer. After taking this treatment, the oncologist’s tumors and AFP blood levels decreased and the room was happy to see pictures of this patient who was able to go back to work after he was cured.
Dr. Liu as an engaging speaker peppered the audience with questions that were difficult to answer, such as “How many genes do humans have?” (The answer is over 20,000) Everyone who went to the talk was impressed by this unique therapy and hopeful that this process will lead to cures for cancer that only a short while ago would result in death.
The fields of precision medicine, T cell therapies and Eureka therapeutics are growing. Dr. Liu encouraged students to apply to his and other biotechnology companies, to continue to study and think how a search for cancer epitopes can be expanded to develop cures for new types of cancer.
Article and Photo by Nick Kapp