Moffitt Cancer Center receives NCI grant to create bioengineered “designer” lymph nodes with Scripps Florida

March 19, 2010

Tampa, FL – Moffitt Cancer Center, in collaboration with researchers at Scripps Florida in Jupiter, has been awarded a five-year, nearly $2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to design lymph nodes for cancer immunotherapy.

            A patient diagnosed with cancer has a dysfunctional immune system either because of the tumor or the treatment being used to eradicate the tumor. These designer lymph nodes will help rebuild a patient’s immune system in order to help fight disease. Researchers also hope to increase the potency of vaccines.

            “We believe we will no longer be held hostage by what Mother Nature has given us with respect to an immune system,” said James Mulé, Ph.D., Executive Vice President of Applied Research at Moffitt. “We anticipate we will be able to create fully-functioning, designer lymph nodes at will in the human body.”  

            Mulé is partnering with John Cleveland, Ph.D., and Juliana Conkright, Ph.D., at Scripps Florida, who will be using high-throughput screening technologies to rapidly select the candidate genes to use in creating the human lymph nodes.

            “Our collaborative efforts hold the real promise of restoring anti-tumor activity to the immune system of cancer patients, and could lead to cures for some cancer types,” said Cleveland, Chairman of the Department of Cancer Biology at the Scripps Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute. “It is also a perfect example of the creative, state-of-the-art science being driven by investigators at Moffitt and Scripps and the power of collaboration between the two institutes in moving biomedical science from the laboratory to the patient.”

            The creation of these designer lymph nodes is not limited to just cancer. Mulé plans to expand their use to other areas to boost immunity against a variety of infectious diseases and/or to improve the functions of the immune system during aging.

            A clinical trial in melanoma is currently underway at Moffitt using one of the first candidate genes as a primitive lymph node. Twelve patients are presently enrolled.

            The project described is supported by Award Number R01CA148995 from the National Cancer Institute. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Cancer Institute or the National Institutes of Health.

About Moffitt Cancer Center

Located in Tampa, Florida, Moffitt Cancer Center  is an NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center - a designation that recognizes Moffitt’s excellence in research and contributions to clinical trials, prevention and cancer control. Moffitt currently has 14 affiliates in Florida, one in Georgia and two in Puerto Rico. Additionally, Moffitt is a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, a prestigious alliance of the country’s leading cancer centers, and is listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” for cancer. Moffitt’s sole mission is to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer.

About The Scripps Research Institute

The Scripps Research Institute is one of the world's largest independent, non-profit biomedical research organizations, at the forefront of basic biomedical science that seeks to comprehend the most fundamental processes of life. Scripps Research is internationally recognized for its discoveries in immunology, molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, neurosciences, autoimmune, cardiovascular, cancer, and infectious diseases, and in synthetic vaccine development. Established in its current configuration in 1961, it employs approximately 3,000 scientists, postdoctoral fellows, scientific and other technicians, doctoral degree graduate students, and administrative and technical support personnel. Scripps Research is headquartered in La Jolla, California with a second campus located in Jupiter, Florida. Research at Scripps Florida focuses on basic biomedical science, drug discovery, and technology development.