Stanford Cancer Institute

SCI Innovation Award

March 2024

An SCI Innovation Award was given to Amanda Kirane, MD, assistant professor of surgery (general surgery) and Jennifer Dionne, PhD, associate professor of materials science and engineering for their proposal titled “Label-free spatial profiling of the tumor microenvironment for therapeutic prediction.” Kirane is a surgical oncologist who diagnoses and treats melanoma and other skin cancers. Her research interests include immune responses and novel therapies in melanoma. Dionne’s lab designs new optical materials and microscopies for various applications, including the improvement of medical diagnostics and therapeutics.

Modern cancer treatments that harness the power of the patient’s own immune system have dramatically increased survival for certain cancer patients. However, we currently lack predictive markers to identify which patients will respond to immune therapy and which will have severe adverse effects. To do so requires careful characterization of tumor cells and how they interact with immune cells in their surroundings. However, current technologies are unable to consistently correlate tumor and immune features with the response to therapy. Kirane and Dionne are developing novel technological approaches to address this challenge using a low-cost, high-throughput optical assay. They have brought together a unique, cross-disciplinary team in engineering, materials science, machine learning, and tumor immunology with the expertise to apply Raman spectroscopy, an optical analysis technique, to characterize the molecular features and activity of tumors. Using this approach, they hope to identify tumor features associated with therapeutic success or failure. The SCI Innovation Award will help the investigators accelerate the development of their assays into tests useable in cancer clinics. They will initially study this approach in a group of melanoma patients, and the findings will be applicable to many other cancer types as well.