Mount Sinai awarded $1.7 million to study how bladder cancer affects 'natural killer' cells

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has been awarded nearly $1.7 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Defense to study how bladder cancer affects certain types of white blood cells called "natural killer" cells, or NK cells, which control and limit tumor growth. A clinical and research team of investigators with expertise in bladder cancer and immunotherapy will also design interventions to reverse NK cell dysfunction. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer among veterans. Smoking and exposure to industrial chemicals are the leading causes.

The immune system is essential for rapid and efficient tumor surveillance. NK cells are mobilized during early tumor development in order to limit tumor growth, direct the killing of tumor cells, and prevent further growth. However, studies conducted at The Tisch Cancer Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have shown that NK cells found in human bladder cancers are severely compromised. Researchers suspect that cancer cells interfere with the ability of these cells to contain bladder tumor growth.

"With a better understanding of how bladder tumors prevent the functionality of NK cells, we can design therapies to interfere with this processes by using blood cells and tumor tissue from patients with bladder cancer," said principal investigator Nina Bhardwaj, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine (Hematology and Medical Oncology) and Director of Immunotherapy at The Tisch Cancer Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Dr. Bhardwaj anticipates clinical trials to begin in one to two years.

This study also addresses risk factors associated with bladder cancer for men and women in uniform. In March 2016, the National Academy of Medicine identified a possible link between bladder cancer and Agent Orange, the herbicide chemical weaponized by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. Such a link would place veterans who served during the Vietnam conflict at a higher risk than other groups.

"These studies have potential to improve the health and well-being of our active service members, our veterans, and the general public," said principal investigator John Sfakianos, MD, Assistant Professor of Urology and Urologic Oncology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "The ability to detect and reverse NK cell dysfunction in individuals with bladder cancer could also lead to new therapies for patients with other malignancies."

The study is expected to be completed in three years.

In addition to the study, Mount Sinai is launching a new Center of Excellence for Bladder Cancer to further deepen its commitment to quality care for bladder cancer patients. The co-directors of the center are Matthew Galsky, MD, Director of Genitourinary Medical Oncology at The Tisch Cancer Institute, and Peter Wiklund, MD, PhD, Director of the Bladder Cancer Program of the Mount Sinai Health System.

The Center of Excellence for Bladder Cancer is focused on bringing multi-disciplinary, cutting-edge, and highly personalized care to patients with all forms of bladder cancer. The Center brings together world-class physicians to provide exceptional patient care that draws from our experience, innovation, clinical trials, research, and education.

The Center of Excellence for Bladder Cancer is part of The Tisch Cancer Institute and uses the most advanced diagnostic and treatment approaches within state-of-the-art facilities. Coordinated care teams include Medical Oncology, Surgical Oncology, Radiation Oncology, and Supportive Oncology, and patients will have broad access to comprehensive supportive services, including from social workers, financial counselors, and clergy."

Ramon Parsons, MD, PhD, Director of The Tisch Cancer Institute, Chair of Oncological Sciences, and Ward-Coleman Professor in Cancer Research of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

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