After attending the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Tanner DuCote came to the University of Kentucky. While growing up in Lafayette, LA, Tanner had always had an interest in science. “I was the kid with the chemistry sets and the microscope, the kid that captured bugs for observation, and the kid that took everything apart to see what made things tick.”
Tanner decided UK was his choice to complete his PhD after his interview with faculty and staff. “Originally, I chose UK because of the breadth of research going on in the medical center, the ability to rotate through the different departments, and the funding provided. Whenever I came for my interview, the faculty and administrative staff were wonderful, and I got a real sense of comradery and support from everyone introduced to me.”
Tanner is currently involved in the Social and Outreach Committees in the BGSO. He is able to go out to different schools to judge science fairs, volunteer within the surrounding areas and educate children about STEM.
The research that Tanner is working on involves the progression and treatment of non-small cell lung cancer. “In the lab, my project focuses on understanding the mechanisms behind the immune system’s role in the progression of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), and our ability to treat it with current therapies. In recent years, we have developed treatments for many types of cancer using immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a treatment where we have engineered specific antibodies that target certain molecular patterns on cancer cells, and cause our immune system to attack the cancer cells, while sparing our normal tissues. My lab studies a particular subtype of NSCLC called squamous cell carcinoma. In tumors of this particular subtype, only about 20% of patients respond to any sort of therapy, making this disease extremely lethal. Often these tumors contain large numbers of immune cells called neutrophils. While normally these neutrophils are beneficial to the body for fighting an infection, these infiltrating neutrophils are pro-tumorigenic, meaning they support the development of the tumor in a variety of ways. These neutrophils also have immuno-suppressive effects, that we believe affect the ability of T-cells to recognize the tumor and destroy it. The current immunotherapy that we are using exploits a signaling pathway that drives T-cell activation. When using the antibody therapy, we increase the ability of the T-cell to recognize the tumor cells allowing them to destroy the tumor. We believe that the neutrophil populations within these tumors are interfering with the efficacy of this immunotherapy, and thus by eliminating them we hope to increase the overall effects of the immunotherapy. My goal is to understand the overall immuno-suppressive biology of these neutrophils, and their gene regulation, and to use this knowledge to design combinations of therapies to treat the disease.”
When Tanner is not in the lab, he enjoys cooking, trivia, hiking, and spending time with friends and his fiancée. Once he completes his degree, Tanner hopes to move on to the biopharmaceutical industry, but has not completely decided yet. “ I really enjoy teaching, so I also could see myself applying for tenure track positions at a university.”