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NBCF’s online community ask a researcher about immunotherapy in live Q&A

October 17th, 2016

During September NBCF hosted our first live Q&A with a researcher on Facebook giving our community the opportunity to get virtually one-on-one with a researcher. The event was a resounding success with members of our online community posing questions to invited guest Dr Simon Junankar from the Garvan Institute for Medical Research. Dr Junankar is funded by NBCF and he is investigating why a promising area of new therapy, called immunotherapy, is successful in other types of cancer but not breast cancer.

Not quite sure what immunotherapy is? Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment designed to boost the body’s natural defences to fight the cancer. It uses materials either made by the body or in a laboratory to improve, target, or restore immune system function. Immunotherapies are heralded by many as the next big breakthrough in cancer research.

Dr Junankar’s research career has centred around cancer and the immune system, he believes that understanding the interactions between tumours and the immune system holds the key to the development of successful new cancer treatments.

When asked during the 30 minute live Q&A about his motivation for researching breast cancer, he responded: “I have had a long interest in researching cancer and how the immune system might be used to fight it. My aunt has been battling breast cancer for over a decade now so I have wanted to try and discover new ways that it may be treated particularly after the cancer has spread throughout the body.”

A couple of online participants said that immunotherapy sounds very promising and were interested to know when we’ll be able to move beyond radiation and chemotherapy. Dr Junankar’s answered: “Immunotherapies are very promising cancer treatments, however the currently available drugs have been less effective in treating breast cancer patients. New immunotherapies are being developed which I hope will help more breast cancer patients. While radiation and chemotherapy might be considered primitive and have significant side effects, they have been proven to help patients live longer.”

“Hopefully in the near future immunotherapies will be able to replace chemo and radiotherapy for breast cancer patients as the immune system is better placed to seek out and find cancer cells that have spread throughout the body.

However initially it is likely that immunotherapies will be combined with existing therapies to boost their efficacy. In general immunotherapies are considered less toxic than other cancer treatments such as chemo and radiotherapy but studies are ongoing to confirm this,” according to Dr Junankar.

Thanking Dr Junankar for his research in this area, another participant asked if he sees breast cancer becoming responsive to immunotherapy. Dr Juanakar was more than happy to answer this question which directly relates to his area of research. He responded: “You are right, breast cancer has not responded as well to the first generation immunotherapies as melanoma and some other cancers. So far clinical trials in breast cancer suggest that they have some effect in oestrogen receptor negative disease. There is currently a lot of research being conducted to understand why this is the case, including my own, and also there are a number of new immunotherapies being developed some of which we hope would work better in breast cancer patients.”

Our online community really appreciated Dr Junankar’s time and insight into breast cancer research, with one post saying: “That was fantastic, so informative. Thank you for providing this opportunity NBCF, and thank you Dr Junankar for answering our questions and providing better insight into the research being conducted. I look forward to a day when cancer has been eradicated.”