CRI Funded Scientists

Rita Leonor Fior, PhD, Technology Impact Award Grantee

Champalimaud Foundation (Portugal)

Area of Research: All Cancers

Dr. Rita Leonor Fior is utilizing a novel “zAvatar” model to improve our understanding of cancer-immune interactions and discover new therapies for patients.

Checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapies are a revolutionary approach to cancer treatment that activates our immune system to fight cancer, shrinking tumors and improving survival rates, even for some patients for whom other cancer therapies have failed. However, only a fraction of patients respond to immunotherapy because cancer cells can “corrupt” cells that ultimately block the immune response.

Dr. Fior has developed the zebrafish Patient Derived Xenograft-zAvatar model to perform rapid in vivo screens for personalized anti-cancer therapies. This model, she found, can also be used to unravel cancer-immune interactions, and allowed for the opportunity to use the zAvatar model to find new molecules that can boost the immune system’s ability to eliminate tumors. Dr. Fior’s aim is to discover new therapies that can revert this corruption process and induce tumor rejection. She’s focusing specifically on breast and colorectal cancer, cancers regarded as difficult to treat with immunotherapy. The rationale is that these new therapies combined with checkpoint immunotherapies will be able to fully activate the immune response, increasing immunotherapy response rates for more patients, and potentially turning immunotherapy into a life-saving reality for these patients.

Projects and Grants
A new discovery platform to find innate immune modulators for cancer immunotherapy

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center | All Cancers | 2023

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