Dr. Anahid Jewett lectures on fighting cancer with science

At around 11 a.m. last Tuesday, students, professors, and fellow scientists began to fill a Santa Monica College science hall in anticipation of Dr. Anahid Jewett’s lecture on her groundbreaking cancer research. Debbie Lincow, a biochemistry major at SMC, skipped a chemistry club meeting to attend.

“There are only two or three of these scientist lectures, so I usually try to go to most of them,” said Lincow, who hopes to make a career out of cancer research.

Jewett, an associate professor at UCLA, and an active member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, has dedicated her career to studying the reasons behind the deactivation of immune cells, or natural killer cells, when in contact with cancerous cells.

Despite the fact that the human body is already predisposed to fight off various cancers, for reasons that are still unknown, natural killer cells can become deactivated when they come into contact with cancerous cells.

Once people reach age 70, anywhere from 33 to 50 percent will be diagnosed with some kind of cancer, according to Jewett. This staggering statistic has fueled her resolve to find answers on the cellular level.


As she discussed the most common types of cancers in the U.S., including respiratory, digestive, breast, genital, and urinary cancers, Jewett noted that “we can’t change the genes, but we can change our exposure” to these diseases.

Though cancer is thought to be hereditary in many cases, 90 percent of cancer diagnoses are considered a direct result of environmental risk factors such as smoking, alcohol, diet, stress, physical inactivity, and the abuse of common over-the-counter medications. Colon cancer, for example, has been positively treated in animal studies by making diet changes.

Understanding the complexities of cancer, Jewett seeks to fight the disease through comprehension and manipulation of natural killer cells that occur inherently within the body.

“[Natural killer cells are] known for their ability to kill tumors and infected cells, and they shape the numbers and functions of healthy and transformed stem cells,” Jewett said.

Jewett and her team have found success when manipulating these natural killer cells with treatments of Interleukin-2, a naturally occurring protein that promotes the growth of white blood cells in the body.

Though much of Jewett’s research and development has been focused on oral cancer cells, she believes that her methods could work in other areas of the human cellular system as well.

If Jewett and her team can continue to manipulate natural killer cells to boost the body’s immune response to cancerous invaders, then the discovery of a cure may be possible. After all, a healthy immune system, Jewett noted, leads to a healthy body.