Wayne State University

Wayne State University/Karmanos Cancer Institute research team receive NIH funding to expand imaging technology to guide cancer treatment

DETROIT – A team of Wayne State University and Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute researchers recently received funding from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health to expand the use of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) in cancer therapy.

Wei-Zen Wei, Ph.D. and Nerissa Viola-Villegas, Ph.D.PET imaging is a common tool used in cancer diagnosis. Wei-Zen Wei, Ph.D., the Herrick Chair of Cancer Research at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and professor of oncology and immunology and microbiology in the School of Medicine at Wayne State University, along with Nerissa Viola-Villegas, Ph.D., assistant professor of oncology in Wayne State University’s School of Medicine and the Karmanos Cancer Institute, plan to expand the use of this technology with the help of the two-year, $368,445 grant, “Directing Cancer Immunotherapy and Real-Time ImmunoPET.”

According to Wei, current immune-based therapies are effective in some patients with existing anti-tumor immunity, but most are not responsive, therefore revealing the need for immune priming and non-invasive monitoring strategies.

Wei and Viola-Villegas will expand PET imaging technology for cancer immunotherapy by imaging dendritic cells — the specialized white blood cells that can trigger tumor-fighting immunity. Cancer treatment that brings more dendritic cells into a tumor is more likely to cure cancer.

“Assessing if cancer treatments are effective is often invasive and difficult,” said Joseph Dunbar, Ph.D., director of special operations in the Office of the Vice President for Research at Wayne State. “Drs. Wei and Viola-Villegas’ method of using PET imaging will be a less invasive, strong indicator of whether cancer treatments are effective.”

The research team will develop new imaging probes to detect dendritic cells in the tumor, which will measure the dendritic cells and predict treatment outcome. Their findings may help develop immunoPET, which, in turn, will guide patient treatment in a non-invasive way.

The award number for this National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health grant is CA216648.

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About Wayne State University

Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit research.wayne.edu.

About Karmanos Cancer Institute

Karmanos Cancer Institute, headquartered in Detroit, is the largest cancer research and provider network in Michigan and has 14 treatment locations. Cancer patients have increased access to advanced cancer care in communities throughout the state. This provides an extra level of comfort and peace of mind to patients and their families, knowing they can receive the best care locally. Caring for approximately 12,000 new patients annually and conducting more than 800 cancer-specific scientific investigation programs and clinical trials, Karmanos is among the nation’s best cancer centers. Karmanos offers one of the largest clinical trials program in the nation, giving patients access to more than 100 promising new treatments often available only at Karmanos. For more information about Karmanos, visit karmanos.org.