The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has granted a $2.5 million, five-year R37 MERIT Award to Dr. Bryan Burt, associate professor of surgery and chief of the Division of General Thoracic Surgery, for his research project titled, “Proteomic Determinants of Response to Checkpoint Blockade in Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma.”
“Malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) is a fatal cancer of the lining of the lungs that has defeated standard therapies for decades. In recent years, emerging clinical data has shown that treatment with a form of immunotherapy called immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) results in meaningful extension of life in half of patients with MPM, but is associated with immune-related side effects,” Burt said.
The goal of this study is to develop a clinically relevant test that would enable physicians to determine whether a patient would be most likely or less likely to respond to [ immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) ] before the patient gets treatment, saving those less likely to respond from immune-related adverse events.
“In other words, whether the tumor will completely or partially shrink or just remain stable for long periods of time, which is important too,” Burt said. “We hope to design a test that would allow us to predict those possible outcomes.”
To develop the test, Burt is taking a closer look inside MPM tissues.
“Preliminary data collected retrospectively showed that the tumors of patients who respond to [ immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) ] tend to have a certain immune cell composition, which is quite complex,” Burt said.
We developed a technique to analyze the presence of about 30 different cell types in a very small bit of a tumor sample.”
Burt also is looking at the architecture of the tissue samples. “In addition to determining how many cells there are of each type, we also study tissue architecture to see how these cells are organized in the tumor. Are they close to blood vessels? Are they close to each other? Our preliminary data showed that tissue immune cell architecture in the tumor also predicts response to treatment,” Burt said.
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