On the forefront of new treatments that employ patients’ own immune systems to fight disease

Weiping Zou, M.D., Ph.D.Harnessing the power of the body’s immune system holds incredible promise for combating a range of conditions, and has transformed the way researchers are approaching cancer treatment.

Weiping Zou, M.D., Ph.D., is leading a multidisciplinary laboratory that investigates the human cancer microenvironment. Their goal is to understand the genetic, epigenetic, and metabolic nature of human tumor immune responses and develop mechanism-informed combination therapies for cancer. Zou and his colleagues are investigating a key target of immunotherapy drugs, a protein called PD-L1, finding a key link in certain cells of the immune system inside of tumors and lymph nodes that may explain why only a quarter of patients respond to these treatments.

Zou and his colleagues studied mice with colon cancer, ovarian cancer, melanoma and lung cancer as well as tissue samples from melanoma and ovarian cancer patients treated with immunotherapies to understand how expression of PD-L1 affects response to its blockage. They found a link between the percentage of antigen-presenting cells expressing PD-L1 and an objective clinical response to treatment.

Other U-M researchers have helped shepherd a promising new form of immunotherapy, called chimeric antigen receptor T-cell, or CAR T-cell, therapy for the treatment of persistent leukemia and lymphoma. As the first site in Michigan and one of the few in the nation to offer the treatment, the U-M Rogel Cancer Center and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital are moving from clinical trials to providing hope for patients with intractable disease.

 “Further investment in immunotherapy can help us increase the effectiveness of this burgeoning treatment for a variety of types of cancer and other diseases. Our scientists are actively translating bench science to clinical trials in the hopes of helping as many patients as possible,” says Dr. Zou.

U-M researchers are at the forefront of translating basic science into immunotherapy techniques, focusing their investigation on new forms of therapy and modes of delivery, as well as the mechanisms behind what makes immunotherapy effective in some patients and not in others.

Weiping Zou, M.D., Ph.D. is the Charles B. de Nancrede Professor of Pathology, Immunology, Biology, and Surgery, and Co-Director of the Cancer Hematopoiesis and Immunology Program, and Director of Center of Excellence for Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy.

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