Abeloff V Scholar*
A new form of treatment for cancer is to activate a patient’s own immune system to recognize and destroy tumor cells. Called cancer immunotherapy, this strategy has proven to have a remarkable impact on long-term survival for patients with a wide range of cancer types, but only a subset of individuals has sustained responses that can lead to a long-term cure. In order to advance cancer immunotherapy, it is critical to understand the immune signals responsible for robust tumor immunity.
One key part of the immune response to cancer is a cellular protein named STING (Stimulator of Interferon Genes) that allows immune cells to detect DNA derived from tumors. STING naturally responds to drug-like small molecules, and an exciting new area of study is the idea of “STINGing cancer” – using compounds that specifically activate STING to boost tumor recognition and patient responses to cancer immunotherapy. In spite of the clear role of STING in immune cell responses, STING signaling is poorly understood and we do not understand how signaling leads to improved patient responses.
Our research will determine how STING transmits signals to the immune system and which STING signal is critical for combating cancer. These experiments will provide the foundation for the design of next-generation drugs that target STING and, ultimately, will help us understand how to use cellular proteins like STING to better control human immune responses and treat cancer.