NCI Awards Wilmot Scientists $1.6M to Study Lymphoma Treatments

August 12, 2008

The National Cancer Institute has tapped a team of scientists at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center to lead a $1.6 million in research program to improve lymphoma treatment, an area of excellence in research and care for the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The five-year grant to Steven H. Bernstein, M.D., co-director of Wilmot’s lymphoma biology program, will investigate whether rituximab, an antibody treatment that has revolutionized treatment for lymphomas, elicits an anti-tumor immune response in patients to fight the disease.

Rituximab, also known as Rituxan, is effective in treating the disease, but doctors don’t fully know the mechanisms for its success. Bernstein’s team will study how rituximab affects the patients’ tumor-fighting T-cells to verify the theory that the T-cells play a role in mediating the clinical effects of rituximab.

If scientists see such an immune response, it could improve doctors’ understanding of rituximab’s mechanism of action, and possibly change treatment regimens for people with follicular lymphoma. These results may also apply to similar antibody-based therapies of other cancers, leading to novel treatment strategies for cancer in general.

If rituximab does elicit an anti-lymphoma, T-cell response it may have to overcome the immune suppression directed by stubborn lymphoma cells. This is based on Bernstein’s previous finding, published in the Journal of Immunology, that normal tumor-fighting T-cells in people with follicular lymphoma are often suppressed by a unique population of cells known as regulatory T-cells. This may make it difficult for rituximab to stimulate the patient’s immune system to fight the lymphoma unless these regulatory T-cells are suppressed, an approach Bernstein’s lab is studying.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 67,000 adults and children will be diagnosed with lymphoma this year in the United States. Lymphoma incidence rates are rising, which is puzzling to cancer experts because nationally, the number of cancer diagnoses is declining.

The Wilmot Cancer Center has one of the largest teams of experts leading research to improve the care of lymphoma and leukemia in the Northeast. The 400 doctors, nurses, scientists and support staff are dedicated to finding cures.

For Media Inquiries:
Leslie White
(585) 273-1119
Email Leslie White