Baylor College of Medicine researcher Dr. Stephen Gottschalk was awarded a National Institutes of Health Director’s Award for his innovative cancer research.
Gottschalk, associate professor of pediatrics at BCM and the Texas Children’s Cancer Center and a member of BCM's Center for Cell and Gene Therapy, Texas Children's Hospital and the Methodist Hospital, was awarded the NIH Director's Transformative Research award along with co-principal investigator Dr. Kai Wucherpfennig of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
The award supports their work to discover new ways to mobilize the immune system to kill cancer cells. It was one of 81 awards totaling approximately $155 million given to U.S. researchers as part of the NIH Common Fund High Risk-High Reward program, which provides opportunities for innovative investigators to pursue research with the potential to transform scientific fields and lead to improved health.
"This transformative award will allow us to develop the next generation of cellular immunotherapies for cancer," said Gottschalk. Their research will seek to identify critical genes and pathways that limit the anti-tumor activity of certain cancer-killing cells called cytotoxic T cells. They hypothesize that shRNAs—short sequences of RNA—that target critical inhibitors in dysfunctional T cells can reprogram those cells to undergo substantial expansion in tumors. In this study, T cells will be genetically modified with shRNAs and then transferred into tumor-bearing mice so that enrichment of particular shRNAs within tumors can be quantified.
In vivo approach
This in vivo approach will also be used to address a second related problem in oncology—the identification of combination therapies that will work together to target defined cellular pathways.
"The therapeutic activity of murine and human T cells will be tested in murine tumor models as well as in xenograft mouse models of human melanoma, as a key step towards translation of our discoveries into the clinic," Gottschalk said.
The Transformative Research awards program was established in 2009 and promotes cross-cutting interdisciplinary approaches to research. Visit the NIH website to see the full list of NIH Director's awards.