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Massey and VIMM researchers receive $1.8 million grant to test a promising prostate cancer immunotherapy

Oct 28, 2014

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Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Massey Cancer Cen­ter and VCU Institute of Molecular Medicine (VIMM) researchers Paul B. Fisher, M.Ph., Ph.D., and Xiang-Yang (Shawn) Wang, Ph.D., have been awarded nearly $1.8 million from the Department of Defense (DOD) Prostate Cancer Research Program (PCRP) to test a promising prostate cancer immunotherapy that leverages tumor-reactive lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, and a cancer toxic gene.

The grant will allow Fisher and Wang to test this novel therapy using preclinical animal models. If successful, the team hopes to translate the research into clinical trials to further test it in patients with metastatic prostate cancer.

“Metastatic prostate cancer can be very difficult to treat,” says Fisher, co-leader of the Cancer Molecular Genetics research program and Thelma Newmeyer Corman Endowed Chair in Cancer Research at Massey Cancer Center, professor and chair of the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics and director of the VIMM. “Our goal is to develop a new, non-invasive treatment that not only targets the primary tumor but also seeks out and destroys cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.”

Xiang-Yang (Shawn) Wang, Ph.D.

This new treatment approach is known as cytokine adoptive immune therapy (CAIT). In adoptive immune therapy, T cells, a type of white blood cells, are collected from patients and grown in the laboratory in order to increase the number of T cells that are able to kill cancer cells or fight infection. The T cells are then given back to the patient to help the immune system fight diseases. Fisher and Wang’s approach takes this process even further by engineering the T cells to seek out cancer cells. By loading them with the gene mda-7/IL-24, which selectively kills cancer cells by inducing a form of cell suicide known as apoptosis, preventing blood vessel formation and modulating anti-cancer immune responses.

“Our research is designed to develop improved ways of attacking and destroying metastatic prostate cancer,” says Wang, member of the Cancer Molecular Genetics research program member and Harrison Endowed Scholar in Cancer Research at Massey, professor in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics at the VCU School of Medicine, and associate director of immunology and infectious diseases of the VIMM. “This award will allow us to evaluate the therapeutic potential of this new treatment strategy and, if successful, provide evidence supporting future clinical trials.”

A key goal of the Defense Department Prostate Cancer Research Program is to fund research that “lead[s] to the elimination of death from prostate cancer and enhance[s] the well-being of men experiencing the impact of the disease.” Fisher and Wang’s research will be working toward this objective over the next three years.

Written by: Massey Communications Office

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