An immunotherapy against breast cancer may be within sight

February 9, 2012 | by City of Hope Staff

Photo of Peter P. Lee Peter P. Lee (Photo by Darrin S. Joy)

A City of Hope scientist believes that the immune system has the power to defend itself against breast cancer and conquer it. It just needs the right kind of help.

Peter P. Lee, M.D., advocates a holistic approach to immunotherapy. What does he mean by holistic? It’s a battle plan that takes advantage of all stages of the body’s defenses against disease.

These are the three stages, he explains:

  • The first phase starts after foreign cells like bacteria enter the body, or cancer cells develop within it. Immune system cells called dendritic cells detect these unwanted cells and begin to signal a problem that activates the immune system’s response.
  • In the second phase, immune cells called T cells start to multiply and spread. These cells mount a defense against the disease-causing cells. As long as the unwanted cells remain, the immune system continues to pump out more T cells.
  • During the final phase, the T cells seek out and attack the foreign or cancer cells.

According to Lee, who recently joined City of Hope as professor and associate chair of the Department of Cancer Immunotherapeutics and Tumor Immunology, today’s immune-based cancer therapies don’t work as well as hoped because they concentrate only on one stage of immune response.


He’s tweaking different phases of the immune response to attack cancer in several ways, and he hopes to have a combination therapy ready within five years.

He has an appropriate sponsor for his multimillion-dollar immunotherapy work: the Department of Defense.

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