Turning the immune system against cancer

Ingunn StrommesAs a predoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health, Ingunn Stromnes, Ph.D., became captivated by how the immune system is essential for human health yet can also contribute to the development of disease. Her later research uncovered how the immune system can be manipulated for cancer therapy. Around that time, a close family member was diagnosed with stage IV lymphoma. Standard therapies failed her, and a promising early clinical trial did not help.

“Her diagnosis came at a critical time during my postdoctoral training,” says Stromnes, a member of the U’s microbiology and immunology faculty. “I acutely became aware that life is short...and that my training in autoimmunity, immunology, and cancer biology should be integrated, applied, and used to develop cancer immunotherapy to help people like her.”

Support from Minnesota Masonic Charities is propelling Stromnes’ research forward.

In one of their latest studies, she and her team have used cutting-edge single cell sequence technologies to isolate a large panel of T-cell receptors from human T-cell lymphocytes that recognize tumor-specific proteins. T-cells find and kill invaders, and lymphocytes, which are also a type of white blood cell, play a crucial role in mounting a targeted response against pathogens. Stromnes’ work also involves screening tumor samples from patients (primarily with pancreatic cancer) to identify those who could benefit from the therapies she and her team will develop.

The next steps for Stromnes and her team are to clone these sequences and eventually develop effective cell therapies.

“It is an incredible honor, privilege, and responsibility to receive support from Minnesota Masonic Charities. It also is a major morale boost, due to the challenges that we face in finding funding for our research.”

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