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Science & Medicine: Targeting lung cancer

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Roberto Martinez

Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio lung oncologist Josephine Taverna, MD, envisions a revolution in lung cancer treatment.

"Traditionally, in the past, we've been using chemotherapy to kill rapidly dividing cells. And we've ignored the tumor microenvironment," Taverna said. "What happens when lung tumors grow is that they start recruiting supportive host cells into the tumor microenvironment to allow it to grow and to spread."

So cancer cells enlist other types of cells to team tumor, using signals from two specific proteins. That’s how they spread. But Taverna says we can disrupt those signals.

UT Health San Antonio oncologist Josephine Taverna, MD.
Courtesy photo
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
UT Health San Antonio oncologist Josephine Taverna, MD.

"What we've found is that the tumor cell cannot recruit in the supportive host cells in the tumor microenvironment, when you block both signals with drugs," she said. "And so that isolates the tumor by itself and does not allow it to spread. So the growth is stunted."

Taverna will lead a clinical trial of two drugs later this year that will target the tumor microenvironment. She hopes they dramatically improve the prognosis of those with lung cancer. 

I want to see patients live beyond ten years with lung cancer or longer. I want to see the tumor growth stunted, if not stopped entirely, because I find a lot of joy when my patients come to the clinic with their family members," she said. "They're feeling great. They feel like they have no side effects, and they really seize the day."

Science & Medicine is a collaboration between TPR and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio that explores how scientific discovery in San Antonio advances the way medicine is practiced everywhere.