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Funding the Best and Brightest Young Minds

February 28, 2014 | Denise Upton

In 2013, through the CRI Irvington Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, the Cancer Research Institute awarded $3.7 million to young scientists carrying out groundbreaking cancer research at top universities and research centers around the world and, in 2014, we hope to provide even more funding to promising young immunologists and cancer immunologists.

The Postdoctoral Fellowship Program was introduced in 1971 under the leadership of prominent cancer immunologist Lloyd J. Old, M.D. As CRI’s founding medical director, Dr. Old established the program to attract outstanding young scientists to cancer immunology and train them in the best labs under the tutelage of skilled mentors. The program has become a cornerstone of CRI’s initiatives, providing promising young scientists with an important measure of financial security as they advance through the earliest and most challenging stages of career development. In 2007, when CRI merged with the Irvington Institute for Immunological Research, CRI obtained the resources to support even more young researchers, securing the future of cancer immunological research in the increasingly competitive environment of academic research funding.

Since 1971, more than 1,200 Cancer Research Institute postdoctoral fellows have made groundbreaking discoveries that have provided a deeper understanding of the immune system's role in fighting cancer.

CRI’s decades of investment have paid off and, since its inception, the CRI Irvington Postdoctoral Fellowship Program has provided more than 1,200 young scientists with the critical financial support and continued career training needed to pursue successful careers in cancer immunology. CRI fellows have made groundbreaking discoveries that have laid the foundation for the field, and have gone on to lead major research programs and centers and to win some of the most prestigious awards in biomedical science, including the Nobel Prize. More importantly, CRI fellows have contributed to the discovery of numerous research discoveries that have since resulted in lifesaving treatments for cancer, infectious diseases, and autoimmune disorders.

Notable discoveries by CRI-funded postdoctoral fellows in 2013 include:

  • Georg Gasteiger, M.D., a CRI postdoctoral fellow at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY, discovered a previously unknown role for regulatory T cells (Tregs) in restraining the activation of natural killer (NK) cells—a powerful class of cells that patrol the body and kill cancerous and infected cells. NK cells are known to accumulate during systemic autoimmunity and chronic infection, as well as in tumors and the lymphoid organs of tumor-bearing mice; they also accumulate in human patients suffering from chronic inflammation and cancer. In two recent papers published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, Dr. Gasteiger reported that Tregs suppress a specific subset of NK cells by limiting the availability of the cytokine IL-2, produced by helper T cells. Understanding the mechanisms that control NK activation and suppression may suggest ways to increase the effectiveness of immunotherapies by preventing the suppression of cytotoxic cells without at the same time inducing autoimmunity.
  • Lisa C. Osborne, Ph.D., a CRI postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, has generated a set of tools that has increased our understanding of where and how virus-elicited T cells behave in the intestinal tract. These tools, which were recently featured as a Spotlight in the Journal of Virology, establish a strong foundation for her ongoing research program and will enable the investigation of the mechanisms responsible for virus recognition, clearance and establishment of antiviral immunity. Her current studies investigate how helminth-induced immunomodulatory molecules regulate antiviral immunity. These findings may be informative for tumor immunotherapy as well, based on evidence that the presence of alternatively activated macrophages is associated with decreased tumor-specific T cell killing. Ultimately, these findings may provide novel insights into intestinal antiviral immunity that will aid in the development of new therapies to target enteric viral infections.
  • Jeffrey Chou, M.D., Ph.D., a CRI postdoctoral fellow at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA, is pursuing research aimed at making colorectal cancer (CRC) more susceptible to treatment with immunotherapy. One obstacle that has hindered the progress of immunotherapy for CRC is the lack of suitable targets (antigens) that are present on CRC cells but not on normal, noncancerous cells. Chou and colleagues have found that treatment of CRC cells with the cancer drug decitabine causes them to begin to express the tumor-specific antigen NY-ESO-1. They have genetically engineered T cells from the blood of a patient with metastatic CRC to specifically target this antigen. They have also, in the process, developed a valuable method for propagating specific CRC tumor cell lines by growing them in mice, thus solving an issue of supply for further research.

If you are interested in becoming a CRI Irvington Postdoctoral Fellow, please submit your application by April 1, 2014.

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