Marcela Maus, MD, PhD, stands with her family beneath a custom-wrapped American Airlines A32IT plane featuring her photograph alongside superheroes Thor, Iron Man and Black Panther from the movie “Avengers: Infinity War.”
The plane, unveiled earlier this month, is now in service, traveling between Los Angeles and New York. The plane is part of a public service campaign, which also includes print, radio and digital messages to raise money and awareness for cancer. The first-of-its-kind collaboration joins together Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), American Airlines and Marvel Studios.
Raising Awareness of Cancer Research
“I definitely didn’t expect that being a physician/scientist would put me in the same league as the Marvel superheroes,” says Dr. Maus, director of the Cellular Immunotherapy Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. “I’m so grateful to SU2C, not just for funding our cancer research work, but also for their intellectual and programmatic support for the public service they do by raising awareness of cancer research and the progress that doctors and scientists are making in treating cancer.”
Dr. Maus is a 2017 Innovative Research Grant recipient from SU2C for her work in novel, next-generation CAR-T cell immunotherapies and for her work with blood cancers such as myeloma, lymphoma and leukemia. Alongside other researchers, the campaign also features American Airlines staff who have fought cancer and those who currently are battling the disease.
Boosting the Body’s Immune System
CAR-T cell therapy is a form of immunotherapy — boosting the body’s normal immune system defenses as a way to kill cancer cells. The immune system’s T cells are removed from a patient and genetically reprogrammed so that, when returned to the patient’s bloodstream, they seek and destroy cancer cells.
So far, CAR-T cell therapy successes have been for patients with blood cancers. But it doesn’t work for everybody with these blood cancers and, thus far, it has not worked very well for tumors formed from solid masses of tissue, like cancers of the brain, liver or kidneys.
In her laboratory, Dr. Maus and her colleagues seek to both improve T cell therapies for blood cancers and find ways to use this promising strategy against other cancers. They endow T cells with new properties and target-seeking instructions so they zero in only on cancer cells.
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This story first appeared in MGH Hotline.