BY ANUM HOODBOY
Dr. Mathias Lichtenheld is an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology located in the Batchelor Children’s Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. In part of his ongoing research, Lichtenheld explores killer lymphocytes that have the ability to eradicate viral infections and even cancer. He researches extracellular and intracellular molecules that control the processes driving the killer lymphocytes to have the potential to fight against immunological terrors such as HIV and hepatitis B and C.
In one of his popular research articles, Lichtenheld discovered an important role of CD8 T-cells in eradicating tumor cells. In his publication, he explains that it is the short term activation of CD8+ T-cells when IL-12 is present that will eventually eliminate B16 melanoma. In addition, it was investigated that adoptive transfer into tumor-bearing animals (after a single dose of cyclophosphamide is added) is vital for this to take place. These tumor reactive T-cells also have the ability to induce long term immunological memory. The activated donor cells that were transferred into tumor bearing animals expressed special qualities such as cytotoxic effector function, central-memory likeness, and homing and senescence, which were seen as vital features in eradicating tumors inside these animals.
One of the primary goals of this investigation was to “take and isolate tumor specific T-cells of the patient, do something with them outside of the patients, grow them up to large amounts, give them back to the patients who have the tumor, and destroy the tumors,” Lichtenheld described. These experiments were initially conducted on mice — tumor specific T-cells were extracted from tumor-bearing mice and then given back to mice to completely eradicate the tumor, preventing tumor relapse. Lichtenheld described two ways through which one can completely eradicate tumor cells particularly for metastatic melanoma. One way is to directly place the killer lymphocytes on the tumor, and the other way is to give checkpoint inhibitors to the patients. These molecules are described as immunologically active molecules that will help eliminate the tumor and, if applied, one can eliminate almost 30 percent of the melanoma present.
Lichtenheld is also looking to expand his research by investigating the functionality of the T-cell as a whole. He wants to find out if there is a way to take any T-cells out of the blood, activate them, then re-infuse them together back with the antibodies that will recognize the tumor to see if they can also contribute to eradicating tumors. He also offers valuable tips to undergraduates who are currently in research or would like to get involved in research.
“You have to be pretty resistant and driven to get things to work,” he advised. “This is not a nine to six job. Your weekends will be ruined; it is like being on call because the only way we can move forward and be competitive is to work very hard … It is about your personality, your drive — and your heart as to be into it; otherwise, it can be frustrating. So just keep at it.”