PITTSBURGH, May 26, 1998 — Investigators at the University of Pittsburgh have received a $7.7 million, five-year award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study how dendritic cells participate in generating immunity against cancer cells, inducing transplant tolerance, and modifying auto-immunity that results in diseases such as diabetes and the arthritic condition, scleroderma. The large grant involves five separate projects and four "core" research facilities that will enable investigators to engage in their studies.
"This funding provides us an unprecedented opportunity to expand our studies of dendritic cell biology and its importance in disease," said Michael T. Lotze, M.D., principal investigator on the grant; professor of surgery and of molecular genetics and biochemistry; and co-director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute’s (UPCI) Biological Therapeutics Program. Olivera Finn, Ph.D., professor of molecular genetics and biochemistry and of surgery and director of the UPCI’s Program in Immunology is the co-principal investigator on the grant.
"We have a unique gathering of internationally recognized investigators who are exploring dendritic cell-based therapies at a time when the isolation, culture and application of these cells to human disease have progressed significantly," added Dr. Lotze.
Dendritic cells are considered the pacemakers of the immune system, according to Dr. Lotze. These cells are the first to recognize and process antigens, proteins found on or within intruders such as viruses or bacteria. Dendritic cells, which traffic throughout the body, introduce these foreign antigens to other specialized cells of the immune system that assist in antibody production or kill the invaders directly.
Of five projects funded by this grant, one, led by Dr. Lotze and Lou Falo, M.D., is designed to elucidate key biological factors necessary for developing potent, dendritic cell-based vaccines against cancer. A second project, led by Dr. Lotze, Walter Storkus, Ph.D., and Andrew Amascato, Ph.D., is aimed at introducing antigenic substances to dendritic cells or genetically modify these cells so they produce growth factors (cytokines) that would increase their effectiveness against cancer. A third project, led by Olivera Finn, Ph.D., Pawel Ciborowski, Ph.D., and Dr. Amoscato, will focus on the development of dendritic cell-based vaccines for lung cancer. A fourth project, led by Penelope Morel, Ph.D., Angus Thomson, Ph.D., D.Sc., and Hideaki Tahara, Ph.D., will focus on the importance of dendritic cells in a mouse model of the autoimmune disease, diabetes. A fifth project, led by Timothy Wright, M.D. and Susan McCarthy, Ph.D., will focus on how dendritic cells stimulate auto-immunity in scleroderma.
UPCI administrators, along with researchers and physicians in UPCI’s Immunologic Monitoring and Diagnostic Laboratories, the Vector Core Facility, and the Biologic Imaging Center also will contribute to this large project.
One of 31 NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers, the UPCI is a recognized leader in patient care and translational biomedical research. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center houses the world’s largest liver transplant program, where surgeons perform more types of transplants than any other center, and where researchers engage in a wide range of basic and clinical research projects to improve transplantation.