(Julian Lum / UVic)

A UVic researcher and his team are hard at work designing a one-of-a-kind cancer treatment thanks to a $1.08 million grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research.

UVic immunologist Julian Lum and his team are researching how the body processes sugar to develop a new type of cancer treatment that will help strengthen a patient’s natural immune cells to defend against cancer.

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Both immune cells (or ‘T-cells’) and cancer cells need sugar to grow, and the two types of cells are constantly competing to absorb the most nutrients.

Lum’s research is designed to factor in a patient’s diet and sugar intake through a process known as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-therapy and use the information to strengthen the patient’s T-cells and help them outpace cancer cells.

“The cancer and immune cells are constantly in this fight for nutrients,” Lum told UVic.

“We are the only academic team in Canada approaching the problem by studying this nutritional arms race to make CAR T-cells more nutritionally fit, thus tipping the balance of power away from the cancer cells and in the favour of immune cells,” says Lum.

CAR T-cell therapy has already seen success in treating leukemia and some types of lymphoma, but has been less effective in treating other cancers like prostate, breast, and ovarian.

Lum hopes that his team’s research will help improve the effectiveness of CAR T-cell therapy so that doctors can use it to treat a wider range of cancers.