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Wistar Science Highlights: A More Effective Flu Vaccine Design, New Drug Boosts Antitumor Effects, Awards for Melanoma Research
Ben Leach

Scientists from The Wistar Institute continue to push boundaries in cancer and infectious disease research. Recent studies from our scientists have demonstrated new methods that could provide more effective ways of fighting the flu and cancer. Two scientists were also honored with awards for their work on melanoma.

Synthetic DNA-Based Vaccine Strategy Offers Potential Protection Against Variety of Influenza Viruses

David Weiner, Ph.D., Executive Vice President of The Wistar Institute, Director of the Wistar Vaccine & Immune Therapy Center, and the W.W. Smith Charitable Trust Professor in Cancer Research, led a study that showed how a novel approach to vaccine design could protect against multiple strains of influenza, offering better immunity against the seasonal illness.

Traditionally, seasonal influenza vaccines are rushed into production to have stock available at the end of the summer when flu season occurs. Even then, the vaccine might not offer protection against the strain of the virus that does circulate. Using DNA-based monoclonal antibodies, Weiner’s lab, along with collaborators at MedImmune, were able to target the two types of influenza viruses that contain all strains known to cause disease in humans. 

“This new strategy delivers DNA sequences that directly encode the protective antibodies rather than inciting the production of antibodies through an immune response,” said co-lead author of the study Sarah T.C. Elliott, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Wistar’s Vaccine & Immune Therapy Center in the Weiner lab.

Click here to read a press release about the study.

Preclinical Study Shows Effectiveness of New Drug in Enhancing Immune Checkpoint Therapy

Therapies that block PD-1 (programmed death receptor-1) have generated considerable interest because they appear to work effectively across different tumor types. However, many patients who receive these therapies relapse after treatment.

In a preclinical study performed collaboratively between The Wistar Institute, Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center and Syndax Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a drug called entinostat was able to enhance the antitumor effect of blocking PD-1 by targeting myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSCs).

“We have previously demonstrated the role of MDSCs as important mediators of resistance to immune therapy approaches,” said co-lead author Dmitry I. Gabrilovich, M.D., Ph.D., Professor and Program Leader in the Translational Tumor Immunology Program at Wistar. “The results from our new study suggest that entinostat may enhance the anti-tumor efficacy of PD-1 targeted therapy through MDSC targeting, potentially providing an effective combination treatment approach for patients with solid tumors, including lung and renal cell carcinoma.”

Click here to read a press release about the study.

Two Wistar Scientists Receive Awards for Melanoma Research

Two assistant professors at Wistar were recognized for their research into melanoma last month.

Jessie Villanueva, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Molecular and Cellular Oncogenesis Program and member of the Melanoma Research Center, was honored at the “Celebrating 21 Years of the CURE Program Recognition Ceremony” held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in June. Villanueva was the recipient of a 2013 Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award to Promote Diversity, and last month, she was recognized in the category of Emerging Scholars for her achievements in melanoma research focusing on molecular pathways deregulated in this type of cancer and mechanisms of drug resistance.

Erica Stone, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Translational Tumor Immunology Program, was selected by the Melanoma Research Alliance as one of this year’s Young Investigator Program award winners. Stone is studying how some melanoma tumors might not respond to a class of drugs called checkpoint inhibitors and what can be done to prevent resistance. Additionally, she will be mentored by Ashani Weeraratna, Ph.D., Ira Brind Associate Professor, Associate Professor and Program Leader in the Tumor Microenvironment and Metastasis Program, and member of the Melanoma Research Center.