Prof. Cyrille Cohen: Let the Immune System Prevail!

Revolutionary and promising, immunotherapy empowers the immune system to combat cancer. Unlike chemotherapy which attacks both diseased and healthy tissue, immunotherapy is more natural and less aggressive, zeroing in on cancerous cells only. 

Prof. Cyrille Cohen, Head of the Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy Laboratory at BIU’s Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences, expects immunotherapy to become the most commonly used approach for cancer treatment. Already, authorized immunotherapeutic drugs outnumber chemotherapeutic medications, he claims. 

"Immunotherapy stimulates the immune system to heal the body," explains Cohen. Much of the recent cancer research focuses on the immune response to diseased cells. The role of the immune system is to protect our body against invaders. However, cancer cells are not foreign bodies. They develop in our body.”

“I was always interested in science,” shares Cohen. “When I was 13 years old, I read an article in a pop-science magazine about genetic engineering, then a new field of research. The idea of reprogramming the body's cells captivated me. Today, when I’m working at the lab, I feel like we are playing a molecular game of Legos, structuring new molecules out of the body's amino acids.”

Cohen (41) has been studying the immune system and cancer for nearly two decades. After obtaining his PhD in the Technion in Haifa, he completed a post doc in NIH in Maryland. In 2007 Cohen returned to Israel as part of BIU’s “Returning Scientists” projects, and joined BIU’s Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Science, where he established the Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy Laboratory. In 2011, Cohen was named by his students and senior faculty as one of Bar-Ilan's Outstanding Lecturers.

Cohen's team also works on the quality of the immune response to cancerous cells. In the past two years newly-developed antibodies have been injected into patients, which physically bar cancerous cells from secreting substances that repress the immune response. The team thus “teaches” T-cells to "avoid" being repressed by infected cells.

The next challenge is personalized medicine. Currently, even the study of immunotherapy is at a point where it needs to be personally tailored to each patient, in an attempt of minimize harmful side effects. The significance of these studies is that scientists today have the tools to battle cancer naturally rather than chemically. “If we figure out the hitches,” says Cohen, “we could improve the immune response and fight the disease more effectively.”

For more on Prof. Cohen click here.