Dr Michelle Head is a Medical Oncologist, working at Bay of Plenty DHB and Canopy Cancer Care. Dr Head specialises in a number of tumour types, including breast, GI and lung. She has a strong interest in the psycho-social and survivorship aspects of oncology care, and was a founding member of the Waikato/BOP Psycho-Oncology Forum.
Dr Head has been an investigator on more than 20 clinical trials, and has published in peer-reviewed journals.
Outside of work, she can be found paddling in the harbour or running with her border collies.
Harnessing The Immune System: Can We Cure The Incurable?
The landscape of Medical Oncology has altered dramatically in a relatively short time frame. Forty years ago, Hodgkin lymphoma and testicular cancer (now among the most curable of malignancies) were frequently a terminal diagnosis; the advent of chemotherapy revolutionised outcomes in these patients.
Throughout the intervening decades, advances have been made in the use of cytotoxic therapies, which have remained the backbone of oncological treatment. Many malignancies, such as melanoma or renal cell cancer, proved resistant to such treatments and were associated with dire prognosis. Targeted therapies, emerging from the late 1990s onwards, have improved outcomes in some tumour types, including lymphoma, lung, melanoma and bowel cancers.
The immune system has long been a potential therapeutic target, following early identification of inflammatory and immunological cell infiltration in malignant tumours. Initial trials of vaccine therapy proved disappointing, but newer treatments ‘harnessing’ different aspects of the immune system are radically altering the way we practice as Medical Oncologists – and the outcomes for patients.
This short presentation will focus predominantly on PD-1 inhibition and the rapidly evolving role it has in an ever-widening array of malignancies. Can we now cure patients previously deemed incurable