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  • Brown Center for Immunotherapy names Huda Salman, MD, PhD as inaugural executive director

    Brown Center for Immunotherapy names Huda Salman, MD, PhD as inaugural executive director

    INDIANAPOLIS—Indiana University School of Medicine has named its first executive director of the Brown Center for Immunotherapy. Huda Salman, MD, PhD will become the center’s new leader, effective November 1.

    Salman joins IU School of Medicine from Stony Brook University and Stony Brook Cancer Center where she is currently an associate professor, section chief of hematological malignancies and director of the CAR T-cell program. She founded the hematological malignancies section as well as the Cancer Center Adolescence and Young Adult Program at Stony Brook. She completed a fellowship in hematology/oncology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, residency at Cornell Medical College and medical school at Jordan University. A leukemia survivor herself, Salman’s clinical expertise is focused on hematological malignancies and bone marrow transplantation and cellular therapy, particularly for acute and aggressive lymphomas. Her most recent work on CAR T-cell and immunotherapy is extramurally funded and very well received in the medical community.

    At IU School of Medicine, Salman will hold the title of Don Brown Chair in Immunotherapy and professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology.

    “I’m excited to join IU and focus on cancer immunology research and immunotherapy,” Salman said. “This is a great opportunity to establish new treatments through basic, translational and clinical research in collaboration with other IU faculty and existing programs as well as across the country. I’m also looking forward to building a dedicated team of scientists and clinicians to advance the field in this area of medicine.”

    The Brown Center for Immunotherapy was established in 2016 thanks to a $30 million gift from Indianapolis entrepreneur Donald E. Brown, MD. The center studies new ways to deploy immune-based therapies to treat cancer and pioneer use of technology in other diseases. Currently, researchers are focused on a technology known as chimeric antigen receptor-modified T-cells, or CAR T-cells. T-cells are important cells in the body’s immune system, but often cannot detect cancer cells due to the defenses put up by the malignant tumor cells. The immunotherapy approach is based on harnessing the immune system to fight cancer cells. In CAR T-cell therapy, the patient’s T-cells are collected, genetically re-programmed to more efficiently identify and attack cancer cells, then re-infused back into the patient.

    “Immunotherapy represents one of the most promising advances in recent decades, if not in the entire history of medicine,” said Jay L. Hess, MD, PhD, MHSA, executive vice president for university clinical affairs and IU School of Medicine dean. “We are excited to welcome Dr. Salman as the Brown Center’s inaugural director and look forward to the new advancements the center will make under her leadership.”

    The center is part of the IU Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center with more than 250 investigators who work to develop better approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The Brown Center also collaborates with the private sector throughout Central Indiana, including leaders in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and other relevant fields.

    “Dr. Salman will recruit and lead a team of scientists to improve the application of adult and pediatric cancer cell therapy and pioneer the use of this powerful technology for other diseases,” said Kelvin Lee, MD, director of the cancer center and associate dean for cancer research at IU School of Medicine. “With her years of expertise, we are confident that she will help the Brown Center continue its important work to develop methods to make this highly-specialized therapy more widely accessible to make the greatest impact on patients’ lives.”

    The Brown Center for Immunotherapy is focused on multiple myeloma and triple negative breast cancer, two diseases for which the School of Medicine and its clinical partner Indiana University Health have a strong foundation of talent, sizable patient populations and existing resources that can be leveraged to maximize impact. Researchers will also investigate potential opportunities to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders with immunotherapies.

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    IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the U.S. and is annually ranked among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers high-quality medical education, access to leading medical research and rich campus life in nine Indiana cities, including rural and urban locations consistently recognized for livability.

  • IU cancer researcher unlocks new approach for possible pancreatic cancer treatment

    IU cancer researcher unlocks new approach for possible pancreatic cancer treatment

    INDIANAPOLIS—Researchers at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center have identified how restoring a missing molecule in pancreatic fibrosis could help deliver treatments to cancer cells.

    Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers with only 10.8 percent of people surviving five years after diagnosis. One risk factor for pancreatic cancer is chronic pancreatitis, a fibroinflammatory disease. In response to internal injury or damage, the body produces a fibrous connective tissue—much like scar tissue—in a process called fibrosis. Pancreatic fibrosis occurs in both pancreatic cancer and chronic pancreatitis.

    “These pancreatic cancer cells are very smart; they develop this thick, fibrotic tissue around the tumors. That poses a major barrier for the drug delivery when clinicians try to target these tumors because the therapies cannot penetrate these tumors,” said Janaiah Kota, PhD, assistant professor of medical and molecular genetics at IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center.

    Kota and colleagues found that a molecule called microRNA-29a (miR-29a) functions as an anti-fibrosis and anti-inflammatory in the pancreas. Using this molecule in drug therapy could help stop fibrosis so that treatments could reach the cancer cells. Currently, there are no FDA-approved therapies to reduce fibrosis.

    “This tiny molecule is missing in the pancreas and, more broadly, the fibrotic tissue. When we put this molecule back in cells, it significantly reduces the potential for cancer cells to develop fibrotic tissue around the tumors,” Kota said.

    In findings published in JCI Insights, researchers established the role of miR-29a as a therapeutic agent in mouse models. Now Kota is developing methods to deliver the molecule back into the pancreas. He is using a pancreas targeted gene delivery approach called adeno-associated virus (AAV) space region therapy, which could carry the molecule directly to the pancreas.

    “When we delete the molecule in mouse models with pancreatitis, they develop a significant fibrosis and inflammation, mimicking the human disease,” said Kota, senior author on the study. “This is providing compelling evidence for us to use this molecule as a potential therapeutic agent both in cancer patients as well as in pancreatitis patients.”

    “The study of pancreatic fibrosis serves an unmet clinical need as there is currently no FDA-approved drug which might halt or reverse this process. This patient population is at high risk for developing pancreas cancer, and potentially stopping or reversing the fibrosis may reduce this risk. Physicians worldwide continue to struggle with management of patients with chronic pancreatitis and pancreas cancer. We are optimistic that miR-29a has the potential to fill an important gap and reduce pancreatic fibrosis, with a broader application for other fibrotic diseases,” said Evan Fogel, MD, a cancer center researcher and co-author on the publication. Fogel is also a professor of medicine in the IU School of Medicine Department of Medicine.

    Future therapies for chronic pancreatitis could potentially prevent those patients from developing pancreatic cancer. Additionally, the development of an anti-fibrotic therapy could have applications beyond the pancreas. Fibrosis also causes complications in lung and liver diseases.

    First author Shatovisha Dey, PhD, is a post-doctoral fellow at IU School of Medicine. In addition to Kota, Fogel and Dey, authors include Jeffrey J. Easler, MD, Lata M. Udari, Primavera Rivera Hernandez, MS, Jason J. Kwon, PhD, from IU School of Medicine; Brandon Wills from the University of California; Stephen Pandol, MD, from Cedar-Sinai Medical Center.

    This research was funded in part by the American Cancer Society Research Scholar Grant, Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (UL1TR001108), and the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center (P30CA082709).

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    IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the U.S. and is annually ranked among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers high-quality medical education, access to leading medical research and rich campus life in nine Indiana cities, including rural and urban locations consistently recognized for livability.

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