Beau Webber, Ph.D., part of the U’s pediatrics faculty, marvels that our own immune cells can be reprogrammed to fight advanced cancers. That knowledge, coupled with dramatic advances in genome engineering technologies, inspired him to pursue a research career.
Now, with Masonic support, Webber and collaborator Ingunn Stromnes, Ph.D., are conducting a pilot study that will help with their long-term goal of developing improved immune cell-based therapies for pancreatic cancer.
“Genetically engineered immune cells have shown remarkable efficacy against blood cancers; however, success against more widespread solid cancers has been limited,” says Webber.
To overcome this challenge in pancreatic cancer, he and Stromnes have found a way to genetically engineer human and mouse immune cells in nearly an identical fashion. By harmonizing the techniques used in each system, discoveries made in mouse models of pancreatic cancer have a better chance of translating to humans “If successful, our efforts will identify novel genetic engineering strategies to improve the ability of immune cells to recognize and eliminate pancreatic cancer,” Webber says.
“Receiving the Brainstorm Award from Minnesota Masonic Charities allowed us to move ahead with a new and innovative idea. As it is typically very difficult to garner larger, national-level funding without substantial preliminary data, funding for pilot studies like ours is critical to initiating new lines of research.”