2014 OSB Grants
LINGLING XIAN, MD, PhD, is a research associate in the Department of Hematology at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, working in the laboratory of Dr. Linda Resar. Dr. Xian has a longstanding interest in cancer and stem cell biology and she is passionate about combining these two fields to discover novel, personalized therapies that target cancer stem cells for patients with ovarian cancer. Cancer stem cells, also known as tumor-initiator cells, are believed to be rare populations of tumor cells that hijack stem cell properties, which enable these cells to invade, spread to distant sites, and evade conventional chemotherapy. Dr. Xian’s project is based on the recent discovery that cancer cells derived from epithelial tissues can be “conditionally reprogrammed” into stem-like cells by culture under conditions similar to those used for embryonic stem cells. She proposes to derive conditionally reprogrammed cells (CRCs) directly from patient tumors and nonmalignant tissue as a personalized model for ovarian cancer stem cells. Next, she will screen these cells using a unique library of >3,000 drugs already approved for use in humans for agents that selectively kill CRCs from the ovarian cancers, but not normal tissue.
BLANCA VALLE, MD, PhD, is currently working in one of the leading laboratories in the field of epigenetics and translational research under the mentorship of Dr. David Sidransky and other successful investigators at Johns Hopkins. The objective of their project is to develop biomarkers for the early detection of ovarian cancer. The presence of promoter DNA methylation of particular genes in pre-malignant and malignant disease, and its lack in normal tissues, is promising for the development of biomarkers for early screening/diagnosis and prognosis. Such epigenetic changes can often be detected in blood and other bodily fluids, making it a feasible biomarker strategy for early detection of tumors. In this research project, she proposes to study promoter methylation of HIST1H2BB in tissues from ovarian cancer patients and it’s correlation to clinical outcome to assess its prognostic value. In addition, she aims to detect HIST1H2BB promoter methylation in blood and urine of ovarian cancer patients, as a first step to evaluate its viability as a diagnostic biomarker.
CHRISTIAN SCHUETZ, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pathology, Institute for Cell Engineering at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine working in the Schneck/Oelke lab focusing on modulation of T-cell mediated anti-cancer immune responses and development of novel immunotherapy approaches, in which the body’s own immune cells are stimulated and trained to recognize and kill cancer cells. Increasing the in vivo activity of tumor‐specific T-cells will lead to clinically relevant anti‐tumor immune responses and subsequent enhancements in treatment outcomes and patient survival. During an immune response against cancer the majority of tumor infiltrating T-cells are often impaired due to tumor escape mechanisms, a situation that can be compared to driving a car with the parking brake on. Recent discovery of check point inhibitor molecules, such as anti-PD1, allow loosening this brake. Therefore, the major goal of this project is to reverse the non-responsiveness of ovarian cancer-specific T-cells through stimulation with particle-based artificial Antigen Presenting Cells (aAPC) that can not be manipulated by an immunosuppressive tumor environment. In combination with check point inhibitors, aAPC will be tested to overcome tumor escape mechanisms and to induce a potent and long lasting anti-ovarian cancer immune response in which the body’s own immune cells will recognize and destroy the patient’s tumor.