K-State research team aims to improve immunotherapy treatment for cancer patients

Immunotherapy can leverage the body's immune system to fight cancer. While excellent responses have been observed for some patients, a considerably larger number have received little benefit.

A team at Kansas State University, led by Punit Prakash, associate professor in the Mike Wiegers Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been funded by the National Science Foundation to research monitoring of a cancerous tumor's immune state in order to assess immunotherapy interventions that will drive more tumors to a favorable state.

"As the team works toward development of this experimental platform for closed-loop monitoring and modulation of tumor immune states, the outcomes may ultimately contribute to improvement of cancer immunotherapy treatment," said Prakash, designee of the Paul L. Spainhour professorship in electrical engineering and a Michelle Munson-Serban Simu Keystone research scholar.

Co-principal investigators on the three-year, $750,000 project, "A CPS approach to tumor immunomodulation; sensing, analysis and control of prime tumors through immunotherapy," are Jungkwun Kim, assistant professor and Michelle Munson-Serban Simu Keystone research scholar; and Bala Natarajan, professor and Clair N. Palmer and Sara M. Palmer electrical engineering professorship designee and Steve Hsu Keystone research scholar, both in electrical and computer engineering at K-State.

With an additional $500,000 in funding through the NSF Cyber-Physical Systems Program, collaborating on the project will be Rahul Sheth, a physician and associate professor in the interventional radiology department at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

While immunotherapy has revolutionized the landscape of cancer care over the past decade, numerous barriers to immunotherapies hinder their efficacy in the majority of cancer patients. The team's research through this funding will seek to both uncover the mechanisms of resistance and rationally deliver targeted therapies to overcome these hurdles.

Modeling the tumor as an 'in-body cyber-physical system,' our project will explore development of a microneedle platform that includes a sensor array for measuring biophysical parameters of the tumor microenvironment."

Jungkwun Kim, Assistant Professor

"Sensor measurements will drive novel model-informed machine-learning techniques and enable estimation of the tumor's immune state," Natarajan said, "which will then guide delivery of interventions through the same microneedle platform."

The interdisciplinary project is aligned with K-State 2025 and the Carl R. Ice College of Engineering goals of advancing research, scholarly and creative activities, and discoveries that benefit society as a whole.

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