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Release: Immediate

UI receives National Cancer Institute grant to study immunity against tumors

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa researchers have received a grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to further study how vaccines can be designed to prevent the growth of cancerous tumors.

The $740,406 grant will support an investigation led by George J. Weiner, M.D., director of the UI Cancer Center and UI associate professor of internal medicine. Co-investigators are Arthur M. Krieg, M.D., UI professor of internal medicine, and Timothy L. Ratliff, Ph.D., UI professor of urology.

"The grant will help us follow a new lead on how we might induce the patient's own immune system to fight cancer," Weiner said.

The goal of the study is to develop ways of using CpG DNA, a short sequence of engineered DNA, to produce a stronger immune response to cancer cells, thus preventing the growth of tumors.

CpG DNA, which was originally described by Krieg, can be produced in the laboratory but resembles the DNA found in infectious organisms. The CpG DNA "tricks" the immune system into thinking it is being invaded by infected cells. When the CpG DNA is mixed with molecules associated with the cancer cells, the immune systems responds as it would against an infection but instead attacks the cancer cells, Weiner said. Cancer cells alone, in contrast, rarely trigger an immune response.

Although the approach is not yet ready for evaluation in patients, Weiner and his colleagues are hopeful that the work supported by the NCI grant will lead to advances that will be useful in treating a variety of cancers.