UPMC, Pitt Cancer Immunology Researcher Receives NIH New Innovator Award

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PITTSBURGH, Oct. 5, 2017 – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) today announced that, , assistant professor of immunology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, will receive the 2017 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award to continue his groundbreaking research on immunotherapy in the tumor microenvironment.  
Studies from the Delgoffe lab in the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Tumor Microenvironment Center suggest that the metabolic makeup of the tumor microenvironment has a critical influence on the immune response to cancer and could provide the basis for why immunotherapy works for some but not all cancer patients.
 
“We’ve been exploring how tumor cells use up all the fuel in the local environment, effectively starving the T cells that can recognize and kill them,” said Delgoffe. “What we have uncovered recently is that not only do tumor cells ‘starve’ T cells, but tumors also ‘feed’ immunosuppressive cells that can then protect them from immune attack.”
 
Delgoffe’s work aims to find ways to rebalance these metabolic interactions, by providing energy to the T cells that can destroy the cancer cells and depleting the suppressive cells that may inhibit immunotherapy responses.
 
“Greg’s groundbreaking work in reprogramming energy use by tumor cells will lead to the development of new drugs that can substantially enhance cancer immunotherapy,” said Robert Ferris, M.D., Ph.D., director, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. “We are delighted that his work has been recognized with a grant of this magnitude.”
 
The NIH High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program, which includes the New Innovator Award, funded 86 awards to exceptionally creative scientists proposing to use highly innovative approaches to tackle major challenges in biomedical research.
 
The program accelerates scientific discovery by supporting high-risk research proposals that may not fare well in the traditional peer review process despite their potential to advance the field. Applicants of the program are encouraged to think outside-the-box and to pursue exciting, trailblazing ideas in any area of research relevant to the NIH mission.
 
I continually point to this program as an example of the creative and revolutionary research NIH supports,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “The quality of the investigators and the impact their research has on the biomedical field is extraordinary.”
 
“Successfully competing for an award like this not only highlights the excitement around immunotherapy for cancer, but also suggests to my team and me that we are on the right track,” said Delgoffe. “This grant provides us with the resources to explore the basic biology of the immune response in solid tumors and, more importantly, provides us the latitude to identify how some of these ideas can be translated to the clinic, to provide new methods to improve cancer immunotherapy responses.”
 
For 2017, NIH issued 12 Pioneer awards, 55 New Innovator awards, 8 Transformative Research awards, and 11 Early Independence awards. The 2017 awards total approximately $263 million and represent contributions from the NIH Common Fund; National Institute of General Medical Sciences; National Institute of Mental Health; National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health; and National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
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