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Closer to a Cure

Hamon Charitable Foundation fuels promising cancer immunotherapy research

A $1 million gift from the Hamon Charitable Foundation is advancing research at UT Southwestern that could set the stage for the creation of a universal treatment for a wide range of cancers.

This exciting work using the body’s immune system to destroy cancer cells is being led by Nobel Laureate Bruce Beutler, M.D., an immunologist and geneticist best known for his pioneering molecular and genetic studies of inflammation and innate immunity. Dr. Beutler is enthusiastic about the possibilities of his research on the future of cancer therapy, which he believes could be quite revolutionary.

“The most powerful cancer fighters of all may reside within us – the cells of our own immune system,” said Dr. Beutler, Regental Professor and Director of the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense at UTSW. “In fact, a patient’s immune system is potentially more precise and more effective than any anticancer drug. Cancer immunotherapy treatment uses the immune system’s natural ability to find and attack cancer cells and has markedly prolonged the lives of patients with many cancer types.”

Not all cancers respond to immunotherapy. Currently approved immunotherapies target one specific mechanism by which tumors hide from the immune system, and thus far, scientists have just scratched the surface in terms of what is possible. Dr. Beutler’s research team has discovered new mechanisms, including two possible targets.

A man talking to two people
Dr. Bruce Beutler listens to students following a lecture.

“Right now we’re working on two gene mutations that cause mice to be cancer-resistant. Our findings were very unexpected. These mutations will allow mice to cure themselves of cancers that are ordinarily lethal. Both mutations affect the immune system, but in very different ways. We hope the two mutations synergize to create a strong broad-based type of immunotherapy in humans,” he said. 

T-cell receptors within the immune system play a key role in fighting cancer. Dr. Beutler’s team is developing a special human T-cell receptor that will attack and destroy practically all cancers without hurting any of the body’s healthy, normal tissues. Through their research, they have developed a mouse model that is able to reject many different tumors, an indication that they are able to target cancers better than any existing immunotherapies. Although not yet tested in humans, the team hopes this immunotherapy approach could be applicable to many types of cancer in humans, as well as mice.

“I am very grateful to the Hamon Charitable Foundation for their funding to help develop these targets. We are at a critical phase where we need more data to advance the work to a point at which it is widely accepted. Oftentimes, this type of research can only be done with philanthropic support. The Hamon Charitable Foundation has helped us take our research to the next level,” Dr. Beutler said.

Dr. Beutler holds the Raymond and Ellen Willie Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research, in Honor of Laverne and Raymond Willie, Sr.

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

Hamon Charitable Foundation

Mrs. Nancy B. Hamon was a San Antonio native who worked in Hollywood during the 1940s before returning to Texas and marrying legendary oilman Jake Hamon in 1949. Mrs. Hamon grew to be one of the region’s most generous philanthropists and established the Hamon Charitable Foundation in 1998. Since its inception, Jack Roach worked side by side with Mrs. Hamon, leading the Foundation and serving as an officer. 

As a longtime friend of UTSW, Mrs. Hamon has given more than $68 million in support of various programs, brick-and-mortar projects, and research. Mr. Roach was a trustee of Southwestern Medical Foundation for 37 years and witnessed many medical advances and accomplishments at UT Southwestern. He passed away in 2018, and since then, his son Kelly Roach has followed in his footsteps as President of the Hamon Charitable Foundation.

“We are pleased to carry on the long-standing tradition of support the Hamons gave to UT Southwestern and continue to align the projects provided by UT Southwestern with the mission and goals of the Hamon Charitable Foundation,” said Kelly Roach.

“UT Southwestern has shared an extraordinary partnership with the Hamon Charitable Foundation, whose gifts continue to propel discovery and innovation on our campus that imparts our community with worldwide research. The Foundation’s support of Dr. Beutler’s research is indicative of the bold and important philanthropic support they provide to our innovative researchers,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern.