Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

SIU SOM Research - Office of Public Affairs - Aspects Volume 36 No. 4



Wilber receives NIH grant to study role of killer cells

Andrew Wilber, Ph.D., assistant professor of medical microbiology, immunology and cell biology research has been awarded a three-year, $375,180 federal grant from the National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health. He will study the role of natural killer cells in kidney cancer.Dr. Wilber in the lab

Dr. Andrew Wilber

One particular type of immune cell, natural killer cell, normally destroys infected or transformed cells. Cancer can alter these natural killer cells, causing them to promote the tumor rather than inhibit it. Dr. Wilber’s study will look at two key factors produced by kidney tumors that may be responsible for this effect. Future efforts will be designed to identify a way to reverse this effect. Results of these studies may lead to future treatments that could extend the life of individuals with advanced kidney cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, kidney cancer makes up 3 percent of all cancers. Because this disease is often not detected until advanced stage, the best opportunity for longterm survival is complete or partial removal of a kidney. Patients also may undergo cytokine immunotherapy with proteins designed to improve immune cell function. Unfortunately, this therapy has a low success rate (15 percent) indicating that kidney tumors may prevent immune cell function.

This is the first NIH grant awarded for Wilber’s research on tumor immunity. His research was initiated with funding from the Simmons Cancer Institute’s Denim and Diamonds. His lab also studies severe hemoglobin disorders, Beta-thalassemia and sickle-cell disease, which have been funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

Co-investigators include Donald Torry, Ph.D., professor and chair, medical microbiology, immunology and cell biology; and Jason Barnes, M.D., pathologist with Pathology Associates of Central Illinois, Ltd.


Clinical trial tests patient-specific injectable treatment

Dr. Mocharnuk

Dr. Mocharnuk

Simmons Cancer Institute is participating in a study for patients with newly diagnosed, metastatic renal cell carcinoma. ADAPT, a phase 3 clinical trial, is evaluating the overall survival benefit of using standard therapy combined with Argos Therapeutics Arcelis™ immunotherapy versus standard therapy alone.

Argos’s Arcelis™ technology takes genetic material (RNA) from a patient’s tumor and loads it onto their own immune cells to trigger a tumor-specific immune response. With this therapy, blood components are primed with RNA from their tumor taken at the time of surgery to create a patient-specific injectable treatment. The anticipated outcome is an individualized treatment that stimulates a patient's immune system to fight the tumor and strengthen standard therapy. Studies thus far have shown that in the majority of patients, the tumors either stop developing or even regress. Side effects are limited.

"This is the first study at SCI involving such a novel treatment customized to an individual patient," says Robert Mocharnuk, M.D., who is the principal investigator of the trial. "The Arcelis™ technology used in the ADAPT study mobilizes a patient’s own immune system to fight against his or her cancer."

Approximately 450 patients are expected to enroll in this study at more than 100 clinical research sites across North America and Europe. If the study supports the safety and effectiveness of the new treatment and the FDA approves, it could become standard treatment for metastatic renal cell carcinoma by 2020. Argos Therapeutics is also investigating the expansion of this treatment to other solid tumor cancers that have immunological components.

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