One-year grant awarded to create novel cancer therapeutics


Faculty with diverse expertise working to advance cancer research and technology with a grant from the Pardee Foundation

Cutting-edge findings with real-world impacts — that’s the standard that researchers at the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine strive to meet with every research endeavor.

Highlighting this commitment, a one-year grant from the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation has been awarded to a team of Michigan State University experts to create novel therapeutics that treat solid tumors, which the team hopes will have future impacts on the health of cancer patients.

Principal investigator Christopher Waters, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, has focused his research on the biological functional class of signaling molecules called cyclic di-nucleotides (CDNs). The Waters Lab studies the function of CDNs in bacteria, but in recent years, it was recognized that CDNs also activate the human immune system. This activation can prevent viral infection and target immune cells toward the detection and elimination of tumors.

Based on this finding, Dr. Waters collaborated with three other faculty members, MSUCOM Dean Andrea Amalfitano, D.O., Ph.D., Yasser Aldhamen, Ph.D., and Dohun Pyeon, Ph.D., to develop gene therapy vectors that could deliver the enzymes that make CDNs into tumors. According to Dr. Waters, “The idea is that synthesis of CDNs in these tumor cells essentially places a giant target on them, and the immune system becomes activated and can then eradicate this cancer.”

The research showed the delivery of these genes into tumors could lead to complete tumor clearance in a subset of mice that had tumors, however, not all mice. The team is now working to refine their gene delivery technology to create a “version 2.0” they hope will be more active and better stimulate the immune system, Dr. Waters said.

The trustees of the Pardee Foundation have approved $187,349 in funding for one year for the research project, “Activating STING in tumors using viral gene therapy,” will allow the team to generate and test these new viral gene therapy vectors in animal models of cancer. These results could be a foundation for obtaining longer term funding.

The research team hopes to one day advance the technology to test it in human clinical trials, with a goal of developing new cancer therapeutics to relieve and treat cancer patients worldwide.

“This project is an excellent example of the type of science that is nurtured in MSUCOM, as it brings together multiple faculty with diverse research expertise to work together to solve a pressing clinical need,” Dr. Waters said. “Only working together as a team will we be able to advance this research and technology to hopefully have a future real-world impact for cancer patients.”

Learn more about the Waters Lab and their world-class research.