Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy

Research projects in the Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy theme of the Department of Cancer Biology aim to develop therapeutic strategies that stimulate the immune system to target cancer cells to produce long-lasting tumor regression and minimize relapse. Integrated efforts of laboratory researchers and clinicians are leading to improved knowledge of how the immune system interacts with cancer cells and how immune processes can be intentionally manipulated for therapeutic effect.

The research team of Yan W. Asmann, Ph.D., focuses on developing analytical algorithms and frameworks for big data mining, modeling and integration. Dr. Asmann's research group has applied these methods to study complex disorders and to identify diagnostic-prognostic biomarkers and therapeutic targets, including cancer neoantigen identification and prioritization for neoantigen-directed immunotherapies.

The research team of Alan P. Fields, Ph.D.,has identified protein kinase C iota as an oncogene that is activated in the majority of lung cancers. This oncogene creates an immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment that confers resistance to immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy, a promising treatment modality for lung cancer. Pharmacologic inhibition of protein kinase C iota restores response to immune therapies, providing a more-effective treatment strategy for many patients with lung cancer.

The research team of Hong Qin, M.D., Ph.D., is developing novel immunotherapies that can be translated to clinical settings to creatively target malignant diseases. Dr. Qin's research group is identifying targets that can be incorporated in the design and subsequent engineering of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapies and is working closely with clinical physicians to identify opportunities in which CAR-T cell therapy would have life-changing application. The group's research goal is to perform CAR-T cell translational medicine with a newly developed good manufacturing practice (GMP) facility designed to manufacture novel CAR-T cell therapies.

The research team of Derek C. Radisky, Ph.D., is dissecting the role of the immune system as a mediator of the earliest stages of breast cancer development. Through the use of an extensive and novel cohort of archived benign breast biopsy tissues available only at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Radisky's group is dissecting protective immune functions that may be augmented for prevention therapies from those that promote breast cancer progression and could be inhibited for patient benefit.

The research team of Peter Storz, Ph.D., investigates the interaction of pancreatic tumor cells with immune cells in the tumor microenvironment. One focus is how macrophages cross-talk with pancreatic lesion cells to drive tumor development and metastasis. Another focus is how immune cells in the tumor microenvironment can be modulated to inhibit tumor growth.

E. Aubrey Thompson, Ph.D., in his capacity as co-director of the Breast Cancer Translational Genomics Program at Mayo Clinic's campus in Florida, oversees the activity of a team of clinicians, biostatisticians, bioinformatics analysts and molecular biologists whose work focuses mainly on breast cancer clinical trials and patient samples. Recent efforts have focused on spatial biology technology to elucidate the relationship between clinical outcome and the number, types, activities and locations of immune cells within high-risk breast cancer samples. Ongoing collaborative projects are also analyzing the immune landscape of several other solid tumor types.

The research efforts of Daniel M. Trifiletti, M.D., aim to study the impact of irradiation on the human immune system, particularly in brain tumors. Dr. Trifiletti's team has developed novel techniques to use radiation therapy in new and different ways to promote the immune system to fight cancer. By sequencing novel radiation therapy with modern immunotherapies, his group hopes to simultaneously improve cure rates and reduce side effects from treatment.

The research laboratory of Han W. Tun, M.D., is focused on the study of the tumor immune microenvironment in brain lymphoma. Dr. Tun's research group investigates the role of immune cells called tumor-associated macrophages in the biology of brain lymphoma and how to harness and manipulate these cells for therapeutic effect. The research group also studies how movement of immune cells called T lymphocytes into the brain can enhance T cell-mediated immune therapies against brain lymphoma.

The research team of George Vasmatzis, Ph.D., develops biomarker models to help physicians identify patients who are most likely to benefit from immunotherapy and to track whether immunotherapy is working once prescribed. In collaboration with clinical translational researchers across Mayo Clinic, the team's research focuses on biomarkers to optimize the use of PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors in solid tumor malignancies.