Weiner, Salem receive grant to help advance emerging lymphoma treatment

George Weiner, MD, director of the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Aliasger Salem, PhD, who leads the Holden research program in Experimental Therapeutics, received a three-year, $600,000 grant from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to develop an improved technique for using nanoparticles in a new type of lymphoma immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy is an approach to cancer treatment that focuses on defeating the mechanisms that cancer uses to protect itself from the body’s immune system. One promising immunotherapy for treating lymphoma is checkpoint blockade. Checkpoint blockade prevents tumor cells from disguising themselves as healthy cells when they encounter T-cells, the white blood cells that the immune system uses to fight disease.

Weiner and Salem believe checkpoint blockade can be made even more effective against cancers including lymphoma when combined with a second treatment — the injection at the tumor site of nanoparticles that carry an immunostimulant. This novel combined approach is designed to boost the immune system’s function in the area of the tumor, enhancing the ability of the immune system to reject the lymphoma. Thus, an injection of nanoparticles into the tumor is designed to enhance the immune system’s response to lymphoma cells and train T-cells to recognize and destroy lymphoma cells throughout the body.

“Preliminary studies with the nanoparticles we have now are very exciting, yet we believe we can make such particles that are even more effective,” Weiner says. “We are beginning the evaluation of immunostimulatory nanoparticles in patients using other sources of support. In parallel, we are using the new support from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to produce even more effective nanoparticles.”

Weiner and Salem have collaborated for more than a decade on use of nanoparticles to stimulate the immune system to treat cancer. Salem, who is division head, Pharmaceutics and Translational Therapeutics in the UI College of Pharmacy, will develop the nanoparticles that contain synthetic immunostimulatory DNA molecules known as CpG ODN. Weiner, who is a professor in the Division of Hematology, Oncology and Blood & Marrow Transplantation in the Department of Internal Medicine in the UI Carver College of Medicine, will assess the impact of these nanoparticles on the immune system.