Research will stengthen body's existing defenses

A West Virginia University researcher has been awarded $1.7 million to conduct research into how immunotherapy can strengthen the body’s own defenses to improve treatment for breast and lung cancers.

David Klinke, Ph.D., of the WVU Cancer Institute, was selected by the National Cancer Institute to receive the funding over the next five years. He will identify collateral targets for immunotherapy in breast and lung carcinomas, and broaden the clinical benefit available to patients.

“David has a long scientific connection to the Health Sciences Center and the Cancer Institute. We could not be happier for him,” said Laura Gibson, Ph.D., senior associate vice president for health sciences research & graduate education.

Immunotherapies are poised to transform the therapeutic landscape for cancer, using the body’s own defenses to combat disease, Dr. Klinke said.

Current therapies take existing cells from patients, expand them, then inject them back in to treat the cancer. Another ramp up the anti-tumor immune response. Dr. Klinke’s research will try to boost the anti-tumor properties of the immune system, without going too extreme in either method.

“What we’re trying to do is identify additional pathways that can augment these existing therapies, so that we may not have to release the brakes of the immune system too much,” Dr. Klinke said. “There’s always a balance point. We’re trying to identify how to do this so patients get a better clinical benefit, but reduce the side effects.”

Klinke is an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

West Virginia Senators Joe Manchin and Shelly Moore Capito applauded the award.

“This is wonderful news for WVU and our entire state,” said Sen. Manchin. “This grant will help provide WVU with the resources they need to carry out advanced research projects and it will enrich our students with hands on experience that will better enable them to compete with other institutions around the country.”

“Last summer I hosted leaders from the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, at WVU to showcase the significant contributions being made to medical research right here in West Virginia,” said Sen. Capito. “I am glad that the University’s groundbreaking cancer biology research continues to be recognized, and I am hopeful that this federal funding will lead to a potential breakthrough.”

The project will utilize tools and techniques across the University, with those more commonly found in applied mathematics, chemistry, statistics, biochemistry, and immunology. The disciplines of chemical and biomedical engineering incorporate some of these concepts.