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CRI Announces $1 Million Technology Impact Award Recipient

Dongeun HuhNEW YORK, June 26, 2017—The Cancer Research Institute (CRI), the world’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to advancing scientific efforts to develop new and effective immunotherapies for all forms of cancer, announced today that Dongeun Huh, Ph.D., of the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania will receive the inaugural CRI Technology Impact Award. The $1 million grant paid over three years—the largest grant CRI has awarded to a single investigator at one time—will support Dr. Huh’s development of microchip-based research models that mimic human cancer and immune cell interactions, a technological innovation with significant potential to accelerate the development of effective immunotherapies for all cancers.

“There is an urgent need within the research community for new ways to model, observe, and interrogate complex interactions between the human immune system and tumors—a dynamic interplay that current two-dimensional cell cultures and animal models cannot characterize optimally,” said Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, Ph.D., CEO and director of scientific affairs at the Cancer Research Institute.

“Dr. Huh’s microchip-based human cancer models represent a highly innovative intersection of cell biology and microengineering, which, when applied to cancer immunotherapy research, may spur advances in our understanding of how malignant human tumors interact with the immune system and surrounding tissues, providing researchers with new insights that will lead to improved cancer treatments,” O’Donnell-Tormey added.

The CRI Technology Impact Award offers an opportunity for scientists to collaborate across disciplines on high-risk, high-reward research projects. The award enables cross-fertilization of expertise, ideas, and technologies—in this case, attracting an accomplished expert in bioengineering to the field of cancer immunotherapy. To carry out this ambitious project, Dr. Huh has teamed up with two immunologists at the University of Pennsylvania, E. John Wherry, Ph.D., and G. Scott Worthen, M.D., who will oversee the investigation of cancer-immune cell interactions using Dr. Huh’s technology.

Organ on a chipHarnessing novel bioengineering technology, Dr. Huh and colleagues will apply microfabrication techniques originally developed for making computer chips to create a “cancer-on-a-chip” microdevice that enables culture of patient cancer cells. The model will be engineered to form a network of living blood vessels that simulate the same vessels that immune cells use to circulate within the human body. Using this novel platform, Dr. Huh will study the interactions between cancer cells with key components of the immune system involved in cancer elimination such as macrophages and T cells.

In addition to providing new insights that may lead to novel strategies to treat cancer with immunotherapy, Dr. Huh’s model may also function as a screening platform to test and predict the efficacy and safety of drugs without first requiring them to be tested in patients. 

“Dr. Huh’s proposal is truly exciting in terms of its potential to make an impact on how cancer immunotherapy research is conducted as well as how we predict patient response to immunotherapy. This is sorely needed, and we also think this project could help us develop strategies that will extend the benefits of immunotherapy to more and more patients,” said Mark M. Davis, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology at the Stanford University School of Medicine and chair of a specially-convened scientific review committee that evaluated proposals submitted to compete for the award. 

In addition to Dr. Davis, other esteemed members of the scientific review committee included Jeffrey Hammerbacher of Mount Sinai, James R. Heath, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, Darrell J. Irvine, Ph.D., and J. Christopher Love, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Matthew Krummel, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, and Ton Schumacher, Ph.D., of The Netherlands Cancer Institute.

About the Tech Impact Award
The Cancer Research Institute Technology Impact Award is a new program designed to challenge the world's leading scientists and out-of-the box thinkers to create a research plan and assemble a research team that will develop a new technology platform with the potential to transform the field of cancer immunotherapy. The grant aims to support the development of highly innovative technologies that can ultimately be adopted by the research community at large and that will enable researchers to develop the next generation cancer immunotherapies that can be effective and personalized for each patient. Technologies may facilitate our understanding of the antigenic profile, cellular interplay, and mechanistic pathways within the tumor microenvironment that are essential for an effective anti-tumor response.

About the Cancer Research Institute
The Cancer Research Institute (CRI), established in 1953, is the world’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to transforming cancer patient care by advancing scientific efforts to develop new and effective immune system-based strategies to prevent, diagnose, treat, and eventually cure all cancers. Guided by a world-renowned Scientific Advisory Council that includes three Nobel laureates and 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, CRI has invested $344 million in support of research conducted by immunologists and tumor immunologists at the world’s leading medical centers and universities, and through its global network of scientists and clinicians has contributed to many of the key advances that demonstrate the potential for immunotherapy to change the face of cancer treatment. To learn more, go to cancerresearch.org.

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