Edited By: Noha Hussein
The Genetic Pharmacology Research Group (GPRG) was founded by Dr. Hend El-Tayebi, Lecturer at the German University in Cairo, Faculty of Pharmacy and Biotechnology. GPRG was established in 2015, with the objective of preventing future resistance against current immunotherapies in the market. In 2017, it had five accepted publications made in peer-reviewed journals of different international conferences in Germany, Switzerland, USA, and UAE.
The idea of the Genetic Pharmacology Research Group is mainly based on immunotherapy, which entails that the only attacker against cancer is our own immune system. That is to say, the immune system can target new checkpoints in cancer and their points of strengths before the cancer cells discover what they are capable of damaging and devastating. That way we will be able to attack the cancer before it starts attacking the body aggressively. Other collaborators conducting the same research but on different pathways are found in the Netherlands and Germany.
Cancer is quite smart! It knows how to manipulate our own bodies through different pathways.
Dr. Hend is currently focusing on a certain pathway in this immunotherapy research, which is the PD1/ PD-L1. This is an immune system pathway that is mainly responsible for maintaining a normal and a healthy body by increasing the number of T cells, which are the immune cells responsible for our body’s protection. However, the problem here is that upon cancer invasion, tumor cells prevent the formation of T cells, in order to facilitate its own growth without any hindrance from the immune system and enhance its spreading in the body.
The aim of this technique is to completely replace chemotherapy treatment by a combination of multiple immunotherapies all at once. However, the duration of the treatment depends on the cancer stage, the site of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread to other body organs, and how early was the detection made.
What inspired Dr. Hend to think of this technique is the harshness of chemotherapy and its severe side effects. These include loss of hair and eyelashes, vomiting, weakness, and the inability to live a normal life upon taking this treatment. Despite how fast chemotherapy treatment could be, relapse and cancer recurrence are likely to occur. But since the first-line attack against any foreign body is our immune system, why not enhance its activity without using any type of chemicals, while causing minimal damage and avoiding recurrence of the tumor?! With that being said, immunotherapy has been applied on different types of cancer, for example, uterine, ovarian, liver, and breast cancers and melanoma.
It was most effective against breast cancer, giving promising results compared to liver cancer. That is because liver cancer can be difficult to treat as it is mostly either preceded by hepatitis C virus (HCV) that is embedded inside the cell which makes it harder to reach, or the liver might become cirrhotic which gives it no chance for survival. Therefore, it is highly recommended that if the patient is suffering from HCV dependent cancer, they should first get the HCV treated then proceed with immunotherapy in order to get effective results.
The major drawback that might occur from this treatment is that upon boosting the immune system, auto-immune diseases might occur.
Most importantly, this research was conducted efficiently due to the use of certain devices. A grant was taken in 2011, the DAAD Equipment grant, that allowed the group to buy a fluorescent microscope. Moreover, another grant,1 million EGP, was taken in 2012 which allowed them to buy a 2D whole proteome analysis device.
Dr. Hend stated “If we are proactively able to control cancer and stop its manipulations, immunotherapy will be our only required future treatment, providing us with the trigger our immune system needs to attack the cancer, an approach with no chemical usage, and promising results. We’ll successfully initiate its response through natural compounds of certain concentrations that’ll be effective and with minimal side effects at the same time. Simply, we’ll be saving more lives with the least possible harm.”