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Four research teams receive grants for cancer immunotherapy projects

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Stanford hands out its first grants to researchers who hope to translate scientific discoveries into new therapies for cancer patients.

- By Ruthann Richter

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Stanford has awarded its first round of bench-to-bedside grants to four research teams at the School of Medicine.

These grants are designed for faculty with early-stage projects in cancer immunotherapy that might not be funded through traditional sources. Each team, consisting of both basic science and clinical investigators, will receive $200,000 over two years.

The awards were selected from a pool of 27 proposals by a committee of Stanford experts led by Crystal Mackall, MD, the institute’s director at Stanford and a professor of pediatrics and of medicine.

The grantees and their projects are:

  • John Sunwoo, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology, and his team are looking at why a form of immune therapy known as a checkpoint blockade produces a significant response among some patients, but not others. They plan to use a positron emission tomography tool, as well as MRI, to help predict which patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma are most likely to develop a positive immune response. His colleagues are Olivier Gevaert, PhD, assistant professor of medicine; Dimitrios Colevas, MD, professor of medicine; and Nancy Fischbein, MD, professor of radiology.
  • Robert Negrin, MD, professor of medicine, and his colleagues are investigating why some blood cancer patients who are treated with T-cell-based immunotherapy develop rejection. He and Sanjiv "Sam" Gambhir, MD, PhD, professor and chair of radiology, have developed a PET imaging strategy that they will use to study these cells, with the goal of predicting which patients are likely to accept, or reject, the therapy. Sally Arai, MD, associate professor of medicine, is also part of the team.
  • Ash Alizadeh, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine, and Russ Altman, MD, PhD, professor of bioengineering, of genetics and of medicine, are studying cancer antigens — molecules that induce an immune response and that are key to controlling or curing cancer. They are developing a method for predicting which tumor antigens are most likely to be useful in this process. Their team includes graduate student Binbin Chen and research scientist Chih Long Liu, PhD.
  • Wendy Fantl, PhD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and her group will be using CODEX, an imaging platform invented at Stanford, to determine the key biomarkers that will predict which patients with renal cancer will respond to a form of cancer immunotherapy. Her colleagues are John Leppert, MD, assistant professor of urology; senior research scientist Veronica Gonzalez, PhD; and research scientist Nikolay Samusik, PhD.

The institute was established last year as part of an initiative, funded by Silicon Valley pioneer and philanthropist Sean Parker, to develop innovative approaches to cancer by capitalizing on the power of the immune system. Stanford is one of six academic medical centers in the venture, which works through a highly collaborative process.

Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and health care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care (formerly Stanford Hospital & Clinics), and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at

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