2019 Grantee: Ingunn Stromnes, PhD
University of Minnesota
Research Project: Overcoming Immunotherapy Resistance in Pancreas Cancer
Award: 2019 Julia Stagliano Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Catalyst Grant
Award Period: July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2022
Dr. Stromnes is currently an assistant professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of Minnesota. She received her PhD from the University of Washington in 2007. As a postdoctoral scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, she developed a novel and promising immunotherapy by genetically engineering T-cells to invade and attack pancreatic cancer without the toxic side effects of chemotherapy. Her postdoctoral studies were conducted under the mentorship of Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) research grant recipients Drs. Philip Greenberg and Sunil Hingorani.
In 2017, Dr. Stromnes established her laboratory at the University of Minnesota. Also in 2017, Dr. Stromnes received the Skip Viragh Career Development Award from PanCAN. Dr. Stromnes’ current research interests focus on integrating basic cancer immunology research with clinical translation of new cellular immunotherapies for pancreatic cancer patient treatment.
Immunotherapy, treatment that helps a person’s immune system fight diseases, is producing remarkable results in many advanced cancers. However, immunotherapy has not been effective for the treatment of pancreatic cancer, because of the suppressive microenvironment (area around the tumor) that shields tumor cells from immune system detection. It is also likely that pancreatic cancer expresses only a few proteins different from proteins expressed in normal tissues, which also limits detection by the immune system.
To overcome these obstacles, Dr. Stromnes and colleagues have developed and studied genetically engineered immune cells, called T-cells, designed to specifically target and kill tumor cells. While the study results were promising, they also showed that the engineered T-cells lessened in quality and quantity over time.
Dr. Stromnes and colleagues hypothesize that the tumor and microenvironment use a cloaking mechanism, through production of TGFβ, to evade and suppress T-cells. In this proposed study, Dr. Stromnes and colleagues will test the effectiveness of T-cells that are genetically modified to both attack cancer cells and interfere with TGFβ. Their goal is to identify a T-cell therapy that will provide safe and durable clinical responses in pancreatic cancer patients.