Grants - V Scholar Grants - Florida - 2019

Vincent Luca, Ph.D.

Funded by the Constellation Gold Network Distributors

Over the past several years, immunotherapy has emerged as a highly effective treatment for cancer. In contrast to chemotherapy, which kills cancer cells with toxic chemicals, immunotherapy teaches a patient’s immune system to attack tumors. As current immunotherapy treatments are only successful in~ 30% of cases, scientists are actively searching for ways to create new classes of immunotherapy drugs. One promising treatment works by deactivating proteins that serve as “off-switches” for the immune system. However, we do not understand how several of these switches carry out their functions on the molecular level.

My research group is using two different methods to guide the development of next-generation immunotherapies. Our first strategy is to use a high-resolution imaging technique called x-ray crystallography to “see” how different types of off-switch proteins send signals. By visualizing these molecules on the atomic scale, our goal is to obtain molecular blueprints that can teach us how to design more effective drugs. For our second strategy, we will use these blueprints to create decoy proteins that can block incoming signals from reaching immune receptors. These decoys will then be used to prevent the natural off-switch proteins from shutting down the immune response. Initially, the decoys will be used to re-activate immune cells in a laboratory setting. However, if these tests are successful, our long-term goal is to proceed to clinical trials in melanoma patients.