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Media Opportunity: Harnessing COVID‑19 for cancer therapy? Scientists hopeful they can repurpose anti‑SARS‑CoV‑2 immune response to kill cancers

Posted by Communications and Marketing on August 31, 2020 in News, Faculty of Medicine

COVID-19 has touched almost every country around the world since it emerged months ago, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and millions infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. But there might be a silver lining to this catastrophic pandemic. 

Dr. Shashi Gujar, a scientist with the Department of Pathology, Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University, who is leading an ongoing international collaboration with partners in France, Denmark, Germany, US and India, is examining whether the body’s immune response to SARS-CoV-2 could be repurposed to kill cancer cells.

Following infection with SARS-CoV-2, our defence system -- the immune system -- recognizes the virus and activates a particular type of immune cell called “T cells.” These T cells act in a highly precise manner and kill only virus-harbouring cells. Most importantly, T cells can establish a ‘memory’ response that maintains active protection against possible re-infection with the virus.

As a result, SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells can hunt for the virus inside the body, eliminate the niches where the virus replicates and aid in recovery from COVID-19. Interestingly, multiple COVID-19 vaccines that are being tested internationally have shown similar capacity to activate SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells -- induced by either infection or vaccinations -- will be found in millions of people worldwide. 

The T cells generated in response to the viral infection remain in the body for a long time and Dr. Gujar and his scientific partners believe that these virus-specific T cells could be redirected to go after cancer cells. With the initial support from Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, the team has started work on repurposing SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells to target cancers of various types, as outlined in their recently published article in the journal OncoImmunology.

Dr. Gujar is available to explain the research and the potential promise of exploiting anti-COVID-19 immunity to destroy cancer cells in what could be the next generation of cancer immunotherapy.


Media contact:
Alison Auld
Senior Research Reporter
Dalhousie University
Mobile: 902-220-0491


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