Damon Runyon Researchers

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Max M. Wattenberg, MD

Drugs that trigger the immune system to kill cancer cells show remarkable promise as cancer therapy. Many cancers, however, avoid detection by the immune system altogether. Dendritic cells (DCs), which play a critical role in initiating and maintaining immune responses, are often dysfunctional in cancer, preventing the immune system from “seeing” cancerous cells. Dr. Wattenberg hypothesizes that DC dysregulation is driven by systemic inflammation, a common reaction to cancer, and that novel DC-targeted treatments can reverse this dysfunction and sensitize tumors to immune attack. He will use mouse models of cancer and patient samples to investigate the mechanisms by which systemic inflammation impacts DC function and orchestrates resistance to immunotherapy, and will test methods to overcome DC dysregulation. Dr. Wattenberg hopes that these studies will provide new insight into fundamental mechanisms of cancer resistance to immunotherapy and identify novel treatment strategies for patients with cancer.

Project title: "Epigenetic reprogramming of dendritic cells for cancer immunotherapy"
Institution: University of Pennsylvania
Award Program: Physician-Scientist
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Gregory L. Beatty, MD, PhD, and Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, PhD
Cancer Type: Pancreatic
Research Area: Tumor Immunology