Grants - Translational Grants - Michigan - 2019

Marcin Cieslik, Ph.D. & Ajjai Alva, M.D.

Funded by the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund

Immunotherapy has been one of the most remarkable advances in our fight against cancer. Its transformative impact on patients has been recognized with the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Immunotherapy, unlike other treatments for advanced tumors, can result in long term remissions and cures. Unfortunately, only a subset of patients benefit from immunotherapy. The majority of patients experience unremitting progression of cancer and a significant number suffer serious side-effects, which are sometimes life threatening. In those patients, immunotherapy could end up delaying or preventing other useful treatments. Cancer patients and their doctors badly need tests called ‘predictive biomarkers’ to determine whether a particular patient will benefit or be harmed by immunotherapy. Here, we propose to discover such biomarkers by analyzing tumor tissue samples from a large group of patients treated with immunotherapy. We have established a database (MIRIE) which includes all University of Michigan patients who received cancer immunotherapy since 2011. We have also developed a novel molecular assay (TAGTILE) to identify gene changes and gene expression patterns in their tumor tissues obtained before immunotherapy. By using TAGTILE to compare tumors from patients who did benefit from the therapy to tumors from patients who did not, we will be able to identify molecular characteristics of responding tumors. This information will be used to create a diagnostic test (e.g. a decision chart) to help oncologists and patients decide whether to choose immunotherapy. When routinely implemented, such a test can improve results in patients and avoid unnecessary side-effects.