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The O'Neill Laboratory

Kim O'Neill

Our Lab focuses on four main aspects of cancer research:

1. Early detection of disease

Cancer is generally easier to treat, and a better outcome is assured, if the tumor growth is found early in its development. If it is discovered before metastatic spread, then generally a more favorable outcome is achieved. We have discovered a tumor marker found in serum that will aid in diagnosis, prognosis and tumor management. This marker accurately reflects tumor presence, and tumor stage. Several other laboratories working in this field have confirmed this research. We have developed an accurate test method for this marker, BYU has patented the discovery and it has been licensed to a biotech company for commercial development.

2. Biomarker discovery

As mentioned above, we have discovered an accurate biomarker for the detection of cancer. Our laboratory is interested in discovering additional biomarkers that could help in immunotherapeutic therapy, namely monoclonal antibody treatment and CAR T cell therapy. We are particularly interested in proteins that are upregulated on the surface of cancer cells.

3. Immunotherapeutic approaches

Enhancing the body’s own defense systems, particularly the immune system and DNA repair mechanisms. The body has natural defenses against cancer. We study the immune system and help with the development of possible vaccines that could be used against certain forms of cancer. We are currently studying the interface between the immune system and the cancer cell, focusing on tumor associated macrophages and their role in the cancer process. We have developed new methods to study angiogenesis and metastasis. Currently we are investigating the immune response to tumor cell microenvironment and see the effect on macrophages when placed in different tumor microenvironments. We have also developed the DNA repair assays that allow the measurement of certain cells repair capacity which aid in studies of apoptosis and DNA repair.

4. CAR T cell Immunotherapy

For years, the foundations of cancer treatment were surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. In the past few years antibody based drugs that target cancer cells by homing in on specific molecular markers present on the surface of cancer cells—have proven useful as standard treatments for many cancers. Recently immunotherapy-therapies that enlist and strengthen the power of a patient’s immune system to attack tumors—have emerged as powerful tools in cancer treatment. Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) technology is the new frontier in immunotherapy. Immune cells are removed from the body, genetically modified to recognize cancer biomarkers, and then infused back into the patient. This novel therapy super charges the patient’s immune system to effectively find and destroy cancer cells. Our lab is working on improving the development and delivery of the CAR T cells, and prolonging and monitoring their overall response.