Steve K. Libutti, MD, FACS, was awarded a $1.2 million ‘ Petersen Accelerator Award’ from the Neuroendocrine Tumor Research Foundation (NETRF) to pursue work leading to precise treatments for neuroendocrine tumors – an uncommon cancer impacting an estimated 171,000 Americans.
The award to Dr. Libutti, who is also senior vice president of oncology services for RWJBarnabas Health, will support a new pioneering approach to neuroendocrine tumor immunotherapy. His investigation aims to characterize a novel immune regulator called B7x to determine whether it has a role in shutting off the body’s immune response to fight against pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.
The award is part of an overall $3.5 million in grants awarded by the NETRF to 12 investigators nationwide. He shares more about the work:
What question will researchers try to answer?
In what ways does the B7x molecule in pancreatic NETS somehow prevent the immune system's soldier cells (T-cells) from recognizing and killing NET cells?
Why is this important?
Understanding what role B7x molecules play in preventing the body's immune response from recognizing and killing cancer cells is the first step in considering whether treatment targeting B7x could slow or stop pancreatic NET growth.
What will researchers do?
In laboratory studies, researchers will look at the role of the B7x molecule in pancreatic NET growth. Specifically, they will look at what happens to tumor growth in laboratory tumor models when B7x is eliminated. Leveraging existing knowledge of how pancreatic NETs develop, researchers will conduct multiple experiments that simulate different scenarios, mapping cellular response to understand more precisely the role of B7x. With detailed insights into the regulatory pathways involved, researchers will look for ways to interrupt the process responsible for turning off the immune response.
How might this improve the treatment of neuroendocrine tumors?
To date, immunotherapy has not proven to be an effective approach in treating NETs, despite its success in other cancer types. Should researchers identify a new regulator of pancreatic NET growth, these insights could drive the pursuit of immunotherapy for NETs.
What is the next step?
If this study shows, B7x plays a role in turning off the body's immune response to pancreatic NETs, more advanced studies of identified targets in laboratory models could explore drugs that eliminate B7x's influence on the body's immune response.
Read more about the grant and the philanthropic gifts that supported the inital research here.
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