Fox Chase and BGU receive grant for cancer treatment study

Scientists at Fox Chase Cancer Center and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) have received a new grant from the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF) that will fund continuing research on an antibody developed as part of a longstanding collaboration between the two organizations.

The research focus is to test the effectiveness of an immune-stimulating antibody developed by BGU researcher Angel Porgador, PhD, to attack multiple myeloma, a blood cell tumor localized in the bone marrow. The antibody helps the immune system kill multiple myeloma tumor cells. Since it may work on many different types of tumors, future research will explore its use as a wide-ranging treatment option for patients with cancer.

"Our collaboration with Fox Chase encompasses many different cancer research studies and enables our students to pursue their degree research in Fox Chase Labs," said Porgador, a professor in BGU's Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology and Immunology. "I look forward to further development of this project to help cancer patients around the world."

When tumor cells develop, they can be detected by receptors on the human body's natural killer (NK) cells, which are part of the innate immune system. These NK cells can either target tumor cells for destruction or release immune-boosting molecules called cytokines.

Different receptors on the surface of NK cells scan molecules and structures on the surface of other cells as they travel throughout the body, and these receptors can activate a response to structures on tumors but inhibit responses toward molecules on normal cells."

Kerry S. Campbell, PhD, grant co-recipient, director of the Cell Culture Facility and co-director of the Immune Monitoring Facility at Fox Chase

To protect itself, a tumor cell can express a molecule called PCNA on its surface that can bind to an NK cell receptor known as NKp44. Previous work by Campbell and Porgador, who is also the deputy vice president for research and development at BGU, led to the discovery that PCNA could bind to NKp44 and thereby prevent NK cells from functioning effectively. This interaction can serve as an "immune checkpoint" to shut down NK-mediated attack.

"In this case, the expression of PCNA by a tumor hijacks the inhibitory receptor, NKp44, thereby putting the brakes on NK-mediated attack. On the other hand, the unique antibody binds PCNA and blocks its detection by NKp44, thereby releasing the brakes, so NK cells can again attack the tumor," said Campbell.

The $320,000 BSF grant is the fourth consecutive awarded for this team. Campbell is among several Fox Chase faculty members who have received joint grants with BGU through the BSF.

Campbell and Porgador's 16-year partnership began when they were encouraged by Alton Sutnick, MD. Sutnick founded the American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) Health Sciences and Academic Affiliations Committee, based in Philadelphia. Sutnick was once director of clinical development at the American Oncologic Hospital, a precursor to Fox Chase Cancer Center.

The two researchers exchanged data and began collaborating, leading to their first grant proposal in 2008. Since then, the team has jointly published 14 academic papers and trained graduate students at BGU, where Campbell is also an adjunct professor.

We appreciate the support of the BSF to expand BGU's longstanding and successful collaboration with Fox Chase. And we are grateful to Dr. Al Sutnick for making this extraordinary collaboration on cancer treatment possible."

Doug Seserman, AABGU Chief Executive Officer

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