November 17, 2019
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EMMC and The Jackson Lab awarded grant to expand innovative cancer research

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BANGOR, Maine — A $49,000 grant from the Maine Cancer Foundation is making it possible for researchers from Eastern Maine Medical Center and The Jackson Laboratory to expand work on an innovative research project that could lead to significant advances in cancer treatment, according to an EMMC press release.

The pilot project enables researchers to closely examine the immune systems of people diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a type of cancer that affects the blood, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. Researchers expect to find patterns in the immune system that will allow them to identify groups of patients that could benefit from new approaches to cancer treatment.

“Chemotherapy is often an effective way of destroying cancer cells, but it can be very hard on the body because it also harms noncancerous cells,” said Jens Rueter, MD, author of the grant and medical director of EMMC’s Biorepository Program, in the press release. “This research will advance our understanding of immunotherapy, an alternative approach to cancer treatment that stimulates the immune system to attack the patient’s cancer cells. It is an important first step in identifying groups of people whose immune systems show certain markers that make them good candidates for immunotherapy.”

The grant expands an existing two-year-old project by adding incentives for patients to participate, funding data analysis, allowing researchers to develop a control group, and providing education. Seventy people already have participated in the project by providing blood samples, and researchers expect to add 50 more in the next year. Researchers from The Jackson Lab and EMMC hope that their work will someday lead to new, meaningful treatment options for physicians and patients.

“I became involved with the project when I realized there were innovative ways to build upon existing research techniques,” says Joel Graber, Ph.D., associate professor at The Jackson Laboratory. “I believe that by gathering a broad control group of cancer-free individuals, we will improve our understanding of normal variation and consequently improve diagnosis and treatment of cancer. It is exciting to be involved with this world-class research right here in Maine.”