Dr. Marina Baretti won the Young Investigator Award of the Conquer Cancer Foundation/ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology), an oncology specialist at Humanitas, working at John Hopkins University (USA) on effective therapies for pancreatic and biliary cancer.

The award ceremony took place during the ASCO annual meeting, held in Chicago from 1 to 5 June, during which Dr. Baretti presented the clinical study in progress.


Immunotherapy in oncology and the research of Dr. Baretti

The use of immunotherapy in oncology has opened up new possibilities for different types of cancer, but in some cases this path has not yet proved the desired effectiveness. This is the case, for example, with pancreatic and bile cancers. It is therefore important to understand the reason for this and to find the key to ensuring that immunotherapy is also available for these cancers. This is the theme at the center of the work of Dr. Marina Baretti, who for over a year has been at John Hopkins University in the United States, where she follows in particular research work on the effectiveness of the use of a combination with two drugs.

“We are living in a phase of great revolution in cancer thanks to the advent of immunotherapy, which has positively changed the prognosis of several cancers. Immunotherapy is able to activate our own immune system against cancer cells, which are recognized as foreign bodies and therefore destroyed. However, it has been shown to be effective only in certain types of tumors, those characterized by an important presence of inflammatory anticancer cells. However, there are others, such as cancer of the pancreas or cholangiocarcinoma (neoplasia that arises from the biliary tract), that grow in a tumor microenvironment that blocks the immune system and promotes the growth and proliferation of diseased cells,” explained Dr. Baretti.

Dr. Baretti’s research is aimed at ensuring that immunotherapy can also be successfully used in these tumors: “In the laboratory we have studied the action of so-called epigenetic drugs, which act by modulating the expression of the DNA of the tumor cells: they activate the genes necessary to block their growth (cancer suppressor genes) and block the genes whose function is linked to the birth and formation of the tumor. We have seen that epigenetic drugs are able to modify the microenvironment of pancreatic cancer and biliary tract, making it more sensitive to immunotherapy, which can therefore become effective in these types of neoplasms.


The research project on the combination of an epigenetic drug and an immunotherapeutic product

For some months now a research project has been started, followed by Dr. Baretti, on the use of the combination of an epigenetic drug (entinostat) with an immunotherapeutic drug (nivolumab) in patients with pancreatic cancer or cholangiocarcinoma in which the usual treatments have not been successful. Moreover, it is with this clinical research that the specialist won the Young Investigator Award of the Conquer Cancer Foundation/ASCO: a prize awarded to young researchers to encourage and promote their important research work.


The words of Professor Santoro

“The award obtained by Dr. Baretti is a very important recognition for young oncologists. It is delivered to the most interesting works that are presented at the World Congress of Medical Oncology of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). This recognition indicates not only an important commitment to clinical research, but above all that those who receive it have been able to develop a research project of particular interest independently,” explains Professor Armando Santoro, director of the Cancer Center of Humanitas and lecturer at Humanitas University.

Dr. Baretti’s work abroad is part of the approach followed by Humanitas Cancer Center in the training of young people, who spend some time abroad in important structures in the field of cancer worldwide: “It is essential to make known new ways of working to oncologists at the specialization stage, to place them in an international context, to teach them new ways of dealing with oncology, research, provide them with the opportunity to enter the international field of oncology and broaden their horizons. Upon their return to Italy, they will be able to keep within Humanitas the collaborations started with the structures where they have deepened their knowledge. This is therefore an extremely important training course: in order to build the figures of oncologists of tomorrow we must try to make the most of the abilities and above all the potential of young people, offering them the best opportunities for enrichment and growth of medical and scientific professionalism”, concluded Prof. Santoro.