Doctor earns grant to further cancer research

Doctor earns grant to further cancer research
Dr. Charles Prussak receives a grant from Thermo Fisher Scientific for a state-of-the-art cytometer to further research on immune-cell therapy for cancer treatment. Courtesy photo

CARLSBAD — Combating cancer has been a driving force for many doctors.

And one, Dr. Charles Prussak, won Thermo Fisher Scientific’s inaugural grant on Dec. 10 for a state-of-the-art cytometer to further research on immune-cell therapy for cancer treatment.

Prussak, the director of the Cell Therapy Translational Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego, was one of two winners out of 200 submissions for one of the best weapons in the cancer war. Dr. Bruno Sainz of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Madrid, Spain, was the other recipient.

Both received a four-laser Invitrogen Attune NxT Flow Cytometer, which is valued at $199,500.

“It was a tremendous honor and a tremendous surprise,” Prussak said. “It was a piece of equipment we absolutely needed.”

Clinical trials are expected to begin in late 2016, he said. Prussak’s work centers on checkpoint inhibitors and cells found inside tumors in hopes of finding longer-term responses of treatment.

Prussak collects samples of tumors and investigates how the checkpoint inhibitors can be used by cancer to block attacking white blood cells (called lymphocytes).

“We have ways now to take off those controls (checkpoints) and can really study what those cells are that are important in generating an immune reaction against the cancer,” Prussak explained.

Although checkpoint inhibitors can be manipulated by cancer, Prussak said current research has found ways to clear those obstacles so the inhibitors can attack foreign cells.

“We are able to take the chains off the immune system, if you will, so they can do their job,” he added.

As for UCSD, Prussak said a new cancer center will soon be built as part of the school’s hospital. One of the center’s many functions will allow cell-based treatments for cancer patients.

The success rate, coming off several breakthroughs, he said, is improving from these methods. For example, 60 percent of melanoma patients respond to the treatment, while 30 percent receive long-term responses and cures.

“That still leaves 70 percent that are not getting long-term responses,” Prussak said. “That’s the population we want to go into and augment these treatments.”

As for Carlsbad-based Thermo Fisher Scientific, the first-year program was a success, according to Kerry Lowrie, director of global market development.

“How will this help in a way that other current available instrumentation couldn’t?” she asked. “That was the driving force behind it (the grant). “I think that was the primary driving force…to be able to have our own researchers come up with where they actually saw the value in this instrument.”

She added the grant was to challenge applicants to provide an abstract for the use of the cytometer to further research.

“He really understands how to take those basic research findings and turn those into … future clinical uses to block certain types of cancer,” she explained.

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