After two years taking place in a completely virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 annual meeting of American Association for Cancer Research (AACR 2022) event returns in person April 8-13 in New Orleans, Louisiana. There, Cancer Research Institute (CRI) scientists will be giving oral and poster presentations of their latest data from their laboratory and clinical immunology and cancer immunotherapy work.
For many, the pandemic made clear for the first time the importance of the immune system and the power of scientific research to protect us against a global health crisis. Research on the immune system and its relationship to cancer enabled scientists to develop lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines. Our urgent need to respond to the crisis, in turn, accelerated technologies that allow us to study immune activity more deeply in humans. These tools and the discoveries they’re enabling have great potential to advance cancer care, and during AACR 2022 CRI scientists will highlight how.
The immune system’s T cells—assassins that specifically target and eliminate threats like cancer and infectious disease—are centrally important players in the anti-cancer immune response. CRI scientists Michel Sadelain, M.D., Ph.D., (Memorial Sloan Kettering), Cassian Yee, M.D. (University of Texas MD Anderson), and Yvonne Chen, Ph.D., (University of California, Los Angeles) will discuss some of the latest progress in adoptive T cell strategies, including CAR T cells.
But it’s become clear that more aspects of the complex tumor-immune ecosystem, and especially the tumor microenvironment itself, must be taken into account. One big—and necessary—recent shift in the cancer immunotherapy field is an expansion of efforts aimed beyond the immune system’s T cells.
Myeloid cells are now recognized as key cells within the tumor microenvironment that communicate with both cancer cells and other immune cells and can turn the tide in either direction. This diverse family of cells, which includes macrophages and dendritic cells among others, will be examined from numerous angles by Miriam Merad, M.D., Ph.D., and Brian Brown, Ph.D. (both of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai), Arja Ray, Ph.D. (University of California, San Francisco), Ira Mellman, Ph.D. (Genentech).
Other cancer immunology-related topics of interest that will receive important airtime at AACR 2022 are the microbiome, especially the bacteria that live in our gut, and metabolism, with Susan Kaech, Ph.D., (Salk Institute) and Lydia Lynch, Ph.D., (Harvard Medical School) providing updates on the former, and Jennifer Wargo, M.D. (MD Anderson), Cynthia Sears, M.D. (Johns Hopkins Medicine), and Thomas Gajewski, M.D., Ph.D., (University of Chicago) on the latter. Attendees will also hear from Nina Bhardwaj, M.D., Ph.D., (Mt. Sinai) and mRNA vaccine pioneer Ugur Sahin, M.D., (BioNTech) about how vaccines can enhance cancer immunotherapy’s effectiveness.
These fascinating areas of research are just a small preview of what AACR 2022 will offer during the week. Be sure to check back after the conference for our overall recap!