Dr. French received her BA in Biology and Chemistry from the University of Sioux Falls and her Ph.D. from Mayo Clinic. Dr. French completed a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Rebecca O’Brien in the Integrated Department of Immunology at National Jewish and joined the Endocrinology Department at the University of Colorado Denver in 2008. Throughout her training, Dr. French has developed her interests in both tumor biology and immunology. In collaboration with Dr. Bryan Haugen, Dr. French is now investigating the role of the immune system in thyroid cancer.
The incidence of papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) has doubled in the last thirty years. Although many patients respond well to current treatment strategies, 10-30% develop recurrent disease and could benefit from adjuvant treatments such as immune-based therapies. Previous studies revealed that lymphocytic infiltration in primary thyroid tumors correlates with decreased disease severity, however, the types of lymphocytes found in association with these tumors has not been fully characterized. In a subset of PTC patients, lymph nodes metastases persist for years without evidence of disease progression or resolution. This détente provides a unique opportunity to study the interaction between the tumor and the immune system. While the immune response generated within these lymph nodes likely plays a role in impeding tumor growth or further metastases, the resident tumor may suppress or modulate the response and avoid complete destruction. Sustained immune modulation within the local lymph nodes may encourage metastasis.
Preliminary data reveal that CD4 + T cells are a major component of the tumor-associated lymphocytes in PTC patients and that CD4 + T cell polarization within the primary tumor may play a role in determining disease severity. Using fresh patient biopsies from both primary tumors and tumor-containing lymph nodes, Dr. French plans to further investigate the role of CD4 + T cell polarization in PTC. These studies may identify CD4 + T cell polarization as an important predictive factor in thyroid cancer. Furthermore, this information will be essential to the development of future immune-based therapies for PTC.