The objective of these studies is to learn what signals are required for certain cells of the immune system, namely a type of T lymphocyte that has not yet been well studied called gamma-delta T cells, to control lymphomas. We know from experiments performed in test tubes that human gamma-delta T cells are able to kill a variety of human tumors, but we don’t know what signals activate them to do this or what processes they might use to control tumors in a patient’s body. Once we discover what is required for human gamma-delta T cells to control lymphomas, we will be able to identify those lymphoma patients whose cancers have the required signals for the gamma-delta T cells to be an effective cancer treatment.
The ultimate goal of this research is to be able to administer gamma-delta T cells to patients with lymphoma, as part of a strategy to cure their cancer. We are currently at the stage of learning what basic molecular signals are required for this approach to be effective. Before the long-term goal can be realized it will of course be necessary to also do safety studies to make sure that the gamma-delta T cells do not cause other problems. Nevertheless, because the gamma-delta T cells studied here can readily be grown in the clinic from blood samples obtained from essentially any healthy donor, and this involves using only inexpensive off-the shelf drugs (no genetic modification), we expect that this approach could be rapidly developed for clinical use.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has determined that military personnel who have been exposed in the course of duty to chemicals like Agent Orange or to radiation are at increased risk for the development of blood cancers, including lymphomas. These studies are expected to lead to development of a cost-effective way to treat lymphomas of military personnel.