Guest Update by Dr. Robert H. Wiltrout
CEI: Advancing Immunology and Immunotherapies for Cancer
This multidisciplinary organization represents a means to create a critical mass of basic, clinical, and translational scientists, with the objectives of quickly defining new areas of opportunity and more rapidly capitalizing on the novel immunology- and immunotherapy-related work being done in NCI's CCR to accelerate our scientific advances.
An important goal of CEI is to create opportunities for immunologists in both the intramural and extramural communities to exchange information and to facilitate collaborations. Consequently, CEI has initiated an annual series of meetings on cancer-related immunology research. Last week, more than 700 scientists attended the second meeting in this series, "Frontiers in Basic Immunology," held on the NIH campus. All of the speakers were outstanding scientists representing the innovative approaches to immunology research from within NCI or academic centers around the nation.
CEI scientists have made critical contributions to basic, translational, and clinical immunology. This includes identification of novel molecules and molecular pathways important for the normal development and function of lymphoid cells, as well as leadership in the field of cytokines, including identifying new cytokines, defining their biological activities, detailing their mechanisms of action, and translating this information into new immunotherapies for cancer and other diseases.
The bench-to-bedside progression of interleukin-2 (IL-2) is one outstanding illustration. IL-2 and components of its receptor were discovered by NCI researchers Drs. Frank Ruscetti and Thomas Waldmann, respectively. Work from Dr. Steve Rosenberg's lab established the value of this cytokine in the treatment of advanced kidney cancer and melanoma, while Dr. Waldmann's group demonstrated that antibodies blocking the alpha chain of the IL-2 receptor are useful in treating T cell leukemia, autoimmune disease, and graft-versus-host disease. Dr. Waldmann is currently engaged in efforts to bring IL-15, a cytokine codiscovered by his group, to the clinic.
Other significant advances toward prevention and treatment of cancer from CEI faculty include development of an HPV vaccine that could save up to 150,000 lives a year; a recombinant immunotoxin that has proved very effective against refractory hairy cell leukemia, and a cell-based therapy for the treatment of refractory metastatic melanoma that has resulted in improvement in 51 percent of patients involved in clinical trials. In addition, Dr. Rosenberg and colleagues recently demonstrated the potential for using a gene-therapy approach to re-educate a cancer patient's immune system to treat refractory, metastatic melanoma. The unique blending of expertise in basic, translational, and clinical research, combined with the ability of NCI's IRP to fund long-term, high-risk research, have been key in developing each of these approaches to immunotherapy for cancer.
The diversity, dedication, and expertise of CEI faculty makes me proud of this unique community of scientists. I believe this program is ideally positioned to advance immunology research and help deliver a new generation of immunotherapy-based approaches to the prevention and treatment of cancer and AIDS.