Professor optimistic cancer will become less life-threatening

Helen Heslop
Helen Heslop
A United States-based immunotherapy researcher is optimistic cancer will gradually become less of an immediate threat to life.

Prof Helen Heslop is a University of Otago medical graduate and a world leader in using cell therapy to treat cancer and infectious diseases.

She is visiting Otago this week and giving several lectures as the John Borrie Professorial Fellow.

Prof Heslop said yesterday cancer was likely to become more of a chronic condition in future and, in many cases, less of an immediate threat to life.

There had already been big positive developments in radiation therapy and chemotherapy and toxic side effects had already been greatly reduced.

Much more research work was needed on several forms of cancer, but immunotherapy had become a major new cancer treatment and its success had contributed to her optimism.

Some previously experimental cancer treatments had recently been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, and work was continuing to develop cheaper and less complex ''off the shelf'' forms of cell therapy to fight cancer by boosting the immune system, she said.

Cancer prevention by avoiding or quitting smoking, taking appropriate vaccines and through good diet and exercise would also help reduce the future cancer burden.

It was ''always very exciting'' when experimental procedures she had helped develop in the laboratory were introduced to the clinic and achieved positive results.

Prof Heslop is a professor of medicine and paediatrics and director of the Centre for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

She will give a public lecture on cellular immunotherapies at Otago University today.

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