IRP Research Shows Benefits of More Intensive Treatments for Certain Patients
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Fate can be cruel, especially when it comes to a rare, highly fatal blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Even when months of intensive chemotherapy appear to cause a complete remission of the disease — meaning doctors cannot detect any remaining cancer cells in a patient’s body — roughly half of those patients see the cancer return within two years, or even as soon as six months. Sadly, most of them don’t survive their second bout with the disease.
As a medical student, IRP senior investigator Christopher Hourigan, M.D., D.Phil., thought this outcome was unfair. More than that, he thought it indicated that the standard ways doctors determined if an AML patient was in remission were inadequate, and that remission might not even be the right goal. That’s why he has focused his career on finding ways to detect, prevent, and treat AML recurrence, known in his field as ‘relapse’.
“I was a scientist before I became a doctor, and it was really eye-opening to me, when I started to practice medicine, how difficult some of the treatment decisions were and how limited the information available was to inform those decisions,” Dr. Hourigan says.
Innovation Awards Accelerate Development of New Research Techniques
Monday, September 19, 2022
Scientists spend years, even decades, intensely studying a specific disease or biological system, an approach that yields unrivaled knowledge. However, many important scientific questions require a deep understanding of several subjects. As a result, the IRP has numerous programs dedicated to encouraging scientists with different areas of expertise to work together.
One such program is the NIH Director’s Challenge Innovation Awards, which funds innovative, high-impact projects that require the cooperation of researchers in more than one of NIH’s Institutes and Centers. This year, the program selected six promising proposals with one foot in the disciplines of biology and medicine and another in engineering or the physical sciences.
Annual Event Brandishes the Next Generation of Clinicians and Scientists
Wednesday, August 24, 2022
A year after hundreds of high school, undergraduate, and graduate students were only able to participate from afar in NIH’s 2021 Summer Internship Program, IRP researchers were excited to welcome some of the program’s 2022 participants to campus. Regardless of whether they were working in the lab or remotely, these budding scientists received a full-time immersion into the world of IRP science and, surely, learned a great deal from the mentorship of NIH’s many world-renowned researchers.
To celebrate the interns’ hard work, NIH’s Summer Poster Days on August 3 and 4 gave more than 600 of them the opportunity to virtually present posters explaining their projects. With so many bright young men and women displaying the fruits of their scientific labors, it was difficult to select just a handful to highlight in this blog. Read on to learn about how five of NIH’s 2022 summer interns shed light on topics from the microbes living on our skin to the blood-clotting platelets that flow through our veins.
IRP’s Mary Carrington Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for Insights Into Immune System Variations
Wednesday, August 10, 2022
Some people never seem to get sick, while others catch a new bug of some sort every other week. Humans are immensely variable both in their capacity to shrug off illness and in the ways their bodies respond to medical treatments. IRP senior investigator Mary Carrington, Ph.D., has spent her entire career exploring the biological roots of these differences, and the discoveries she has made earned her election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences earlier this year.
IRP Study Could Help Explain Racial Disparities in Disease Outcomes
Tuesday, July 19, 2022
Even as advances in therapy are extending the lives of many cancer patients, there are still stark differences in how likely patients of different races and ethnicities are to die from the disease. A recent IRP study suggests that a weaker immune response against cancer could explain the worse clinical outcomes for Black men with prostate cancer, pointing to potential strategies that could help close this gap.
Dr. Stefan Barisic Turns Laboratory Discoveries into Kidney Cancer Treatments
Wednesday, June 22, 2022
The Laboratory of Transplantation Immunotherapy sits at the heart of the NIH Clinical Center, just down the hallway from the Southeast inpatient unit. Here, IRP postdoctoral research fellow Stefan Barisic, M.D., labors at the bench with the goal of creating practical treatments for kidney cancer patients. Having such proximity to his patients was one of the chief attractions of working at NIH for Dr. Barisic.
“The NIH Clinical Center is an amazing place because it has all the resources you need to go from the bench to the bedside and back to the bench all in one building,” says Dr. Barisic.
IRP Researchers Develop Drug to Recapture Immune Cells Hijacked by Tumors
Friday, June 3, 2022
In the 1958 cult classic The Blob, a giant gelatinous creature from outer space lands on Earth and begins engulfing a small town and everything in it. While that may sound far out, a similar entity within our bodies does much the same thing, but for good instead of ill. These Pac-Man-like blobs are called macrophages — Greek for ‘big eaters’ — and they serve a vital role in keeping us healthy by clearing away dead cells and digesting foreign invaders like bacteria and cancer cells.
However, cancer cells aren’t content to just let themselves be eaten. They have evolved ways to overwhelm and commandeer the immune system, redirecting immune cells to support tumor growth rather than suppress it. Although highly personalized ‘immunotherapies’ that reboot the immune response and harness it to fight cancer have made significant advances in treating some forms of the disease, most cancers do not respond to these treatments. Fortunately, reinforcements are on the way: IRP senior investigators Udo Rudloff, M.D., Ph.D., and Juan Marugan, Ph.D., have identified a way to reclaim the loyalty of macrophages that are aiding and abetting tumors, turning them back into the cancer-consuming gluttons they were meant to be. Importantly, this approach may be effective on a broader array of cancers than other immunotherapies.
Budding Scientists Showcase Research at Annual Event
Wednesday, May 25, 2022
Any scientist who wants to make game-changing discoveries has to start somewhere — even Albert Einstein worked in a patent office before landing his first job in academia. Through its Postbaccalaureate IRTA program, NIH hopes to give aspiring scientists more of a leg up than Einstein had by bringing them into IRP labs after they complete their undergraduate studies.
On April 26, 27, and 28, more than 900 recent college graduates participating in the program presented at this year’s virtual Postbac Poster Days. Read on to learn about a few of these young researchers and their contributions to the groundbreaking work being done at NIH.
Women Scientists Advisors Select Three Young Researchers for Recognition
Thursday, May 19, 2022
While women have now overtaken men in terms of admission and enrollment in undergraduate education, they remain underrepresented in the sciences. This includes at NIH, where 74 percent of senior investigators and 54 percent of tenure-track investigators are male, according to the most recent statistics available. Consequently, NIH is putting considerable effort into supporting women scientists at all stages of their careers.
One NIH entity dedicated to this important work is the NIH Women Scientists Advisors (WSA), a group of women elected to represent the interests of women scientists in the IRP. Among its many initiatives, each year the WSA chooses several female postdoctoral fellows or graduate students in the IRP to receive the WSA Scholar Award in recognition of their outstanding scientific achievements. The awardees present their research at the annual WSA Scholars Symposium, which this year was held on April 25 and recognized young women leading efforts to better understand how disease-related genes evolved, an investigation of how a fatty liver can give rise to liver cancer, and the evaluation of a way to deliver gene therapy for a rare genetic disease. Read on to learn more about this year’s WSA Scholars and the impressive discoveries they have made during their time in the IRP.
Monday, May 16, 2022
The IRP community is profoundly saddened by the recent passing of Joost “Joe” Oppenheim, M.D., Senior Investigator and Head of the Cellular Immunology Section in the Cancer Innovation Laboratory at NIH's National Cancer Institute (NCI). He died on May 14, 2022, at the age of 87.
Dr. Oppenheim was engaged in cellular immunology research at NIH for five decades and was instrumental in the discovery of cytokines, chemokines, and alarmins, which are substances produced by immune cells that enable them to communicate and act as 'first responders' to injury or infection.