Vivek Mittal, Ph.D., is an associate professor of cardiothoracic surgery and of cell and developmental biology, studying the role of the tumor microenvironment in mediating immune suppression in lung cancer. Dr. Mittal is identifying various modes that lung tumors use to elicit immune-suppressive pathways, and harness this information to tailor specific therapies to shut them down — which has led to combination immune therapies to hit the two or three most dominant pathways at the same time. Immunotherapies are also being combined with standard-of-care chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapies. Because all of this knowledge is coming from the tumor’s microenvironment — not the cancerous cells themselves — it’s like looking at the entire galaxy in relation to how it impacts one planet, Dr. Mittal says. His studies rely in part on active collaborations with surgeons, who often remove a full lobe of the cancerous lung that includes not only the tumor nodule, but also adjacent normal tissue. “From the same patient, we can compare a normal immune cell to its counterpart inside the tumor, and can identify what is being activated and what is being suppressed,” says Dr. Mittal, a member of the Meyer Cancer Center. “By finding out more about how specific immune cells under the influence of the tumors might be contributing to the cancer’s progression, we’re uncovering new potential targets for therapies.”