Like the immune system, Robert D. Schreiber, Ph.D., has displayed an incredible ability to adapt, from his first exposure to cancer-killing immune cells as a postdoctoral fellow all the way to his current role as the director of the Bursky Center for Human Immunology & Immunotherapy Programs at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Dr. Schreiber also currently serves as an associate director of the CRI Scientific Advisory Council.
While Schreiber has adapted throughout his career—to technology, to criticism, and most of all, to what his data were telling him—one thing has remained constant: his interest in a molecule called interferon gamma (IFN-γ).
Schreiber’s many discoveries and insights on IFN-γ revealed its central role in the immune system’s ability to recognize and eliminate tumors. After determining that IFN-γ converted immune cells called macrophages (literally “big eaters”) into cancer-killers, he then characterized the receptor to which IFN-γ binds as well as the signaling pathways that it activates within cells. To do this, he made the world’s first antibodies to IFN-γ, which allowed it to be studied more precisely.
In collaboration with Lloyd J. Old, M.D., CRI’s founding scientific and medical director, Schreiber proved that the immune system naturally protects against the development of tumors and that this process depends upon IFN-γ. Schreiber further refined this concept—now known as immunoediting—and revealed that, while the immune system acts as a surveillance system that naturally recognizes and eliminates cancer cells, this elimination process also sculpts tumors and can make them more resistant to immune-mediated elimination.
Schreiber’s most recent endeavor aims to directly improve care for cancer patients: through the design of personalized vaccines that target the unique mutations of individual patients’ tumors. In addition to his involvement in CRI’s Tumor Neoantigen Selection Alliance (TESLA) project, which seeks to optimize how these vaccine targets are selected, Schreiber is assisting with several clinical trials that are treating patients with this highly innovative immunotherapy approach.
Learn more about Dr. Schreiber in our in-depth profile