Grants - New Jersey - Designated Grants - 2015

Curtis Callan, Ph.D. & Yuval Elhanati, Ph.D.

Funded in Collaboration With

Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C)

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is a frequent cause of cancer death in the United States. Unlike other major cancers, pancreas cancer is increasing in incidence and has shown no improvement in five year survival over the past two decades. Novel approaches to the treatment of this disease are sorely needed.

The human body’s immune system can, in principle, eliminate cancer cells in much the same way as it eliminates harmful viruses and other pathogens: cancer cells express mutated proteins that are seen as “foreign” by T cells, thereby in principle stimulating the immune system to kill cells that harbor such mutations. Unfortunately, most cancer tumors protect themselves from such attack by excluding immune cells (or expressing chemicals that deactivate them); however, recent clinical studies have shown that certain drugs can defeat the ability of pancreatic cancer tumors to exclude immune cells.

We will exploit this clinical discovery to follow in detail the battle between the immune system and the pancreatic cancer tumor that occurs when the immune system is “unleashed” by these drugs. A clinical trial will be mounted in which modern sequencing technology will be used to collect comprehensive data on both the tumor cells and the responding immune system cells. The project will have a theoretical arm devoted to finding effective ways to analyse these novel data sets. The overall goal is to develop a scientific understanding of the immune response to pancreatic cancer that will allow clinicians to identify those patients that are good candidates for immunotherapy.