Discovering New Paths to Better Cancer Care

Michael Hall Discovering New Paths
Michael Hall, MD, MS, is an oncologist and geneticist at Fox Chase Cancer Center. Dr. Hall is leading a clinical trial here in Philadelphia, as part of a national multi-site study, to determine if an investigational vaccine can prevent colorectal cancer for patients with Lynch syndrome.

Through Discovery, We Deliver

Saving lives through modern medicine – that’s what drives our physicians and scientists every day. The battle against cancer must come from all sides, which makes preventing cancer just as important as treating it. In our mission to improve human health, researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center are always at the forefront of both.

Working Toward the Next Big Breakthrough

Take, for example, the work of Dr. Michael Hall, an oncologist and geneticist at our NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Philadelphia. As Director of the Gastrointestinal Risk Assessment program, Dr. Hall is now leading a clinical trial, as part of a national multi-site study, to see if an investigational vaccine can stimulate a robust immune response that will help prevent colorectal cancer for people with Lynch syndrome. If the vaccine proves successful, the implications could be life-changing – and more importantly, life-saving – for millions of people.

"Super-Boosting" Immunity Against Cancer

Dr. Hall has been studying the relationship between Lynch syndrome and cancer since the early 2000s. Through research performed by Dr. Hall and others, the medical community now knows Lynch syndrome to be far more common than previously thought. Lynch syndrome can predispose people to several types of cancer. According to Dr. Hall, for people with certain Lynch syndrome gene mutations, it can raise the lifetime risk of colon cancer as high as 80 percent.

“Lynch syndrome affects roughly one in every 300 people, and it is one of the most common hereditary causes of colon cancer,” explains Dr. Hall. “Unfortunately, it’s often only with a cancer diagnosis that people get tested for it. That misses the chance to prevent cancer from developing in the first place.”

That’s what Dr. Hall and his team of researchers are hoping to capture – the opportunity to intervene in this high-risk population before cancer strikes. Drawing from decades of genetic testing advancements, the vaccine is designed to train the immune system to recognize frameshift peptides created by cancer cells in Lynch syndrome patients, then eliminate Lynch syndrome tumors as soon as they develop.

“If we can super-boost the immune system to recognize these peptide products early, we may be able to quash the formation of tumors early in Lynch syndrome patients,” Dr. Hall says. “To have the technology to intercept cancers before they develop would be game-changing.”

Brilliant Minds for Better Medicine

If the vaccine trial is successful, its potential impact could be extraordinary, extending well beyond colon cancer and patients with Lynch syndrome. A successful trial would demonstrate that preventive treatment could be effective for other Lynch syndrome cancers, such as endometrial cancers and those derived from BRCA1/2 mutations, including breast cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer and melanoma, among others.

“Every next gene, and the mechanism by which that gene puts the patient at risk of cancer, can lead us to a greater understanding of how we might develop mechanisms to prevent cancer in patients,” Dr. Hall says. “That’s part of what’s so exciting about this – if we prove we can do it in one setting, we could, in theory, do it in a broader setting for a larger swath of the population.”

That’s the power of the research happening at Fox Chase Cancer Center. Here, great minds come together every day to create new paths to better medicine for patients locally and everywhere.

Become Part of Tomorrow’s Cancer Care Today

As one of the four original cancer centers to receive comprehensive designation from the National Cancer Institute, Fox Chase Cancer Center has been at the forefront of cancer research for more than 100 years. With a singular focus on cancer, we combine discovery science with state-of-the-art clinical care and population health.

Interested in joining our world-class research team to advance the fight against cancer?

View Careers in Research →