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My MCW Story: Michael B. Dwinell, PhD

Chemokine immune molecule inhibits growth and spread of pancreatic cancer

Published: September, 2015

 Scientists at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) have demonstrated that a chemokine protein (CXCL12), an important molecule of the body's immune system, can suppress metastasis which is the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another.

Michael B Dwinell PhDThese findings were recently published in Cancer Research, a journal published by the American Association for Cancer ResearchMichael B. Dwinell, PhD, professor of Microbiology & Immunology at MCW, and director of the Bobbie Nick Voss Laboratory, is the senior and corresponding author. Ishan Roy, PhD, a student in the MCW Medical Scientist Training Program, is lead author of the paper.

The work was completed as part of the MCW Pancreatic Cancer Research Program (PCRP), a state-of-the-art translational team-based research program established by Dr. Dwinell, Douglas B. Evans, MD, Ausman chair and professor of surgery, and Susan Tsai, MD, assistant professor of surgery. The PCRP of the MCW Cancer Center creates a unique environment where basic science research teams collaborate closely with physicians to improve treatment of pancreatic cancer patients through the pairing of pioneering clinical trials and innovative research.   With Milwaukee County having one of the highest incidence rates of pancreatic cancer in the United States, this program is on the cutting edge of patient care.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, with only six percent of patients surviving five years or longer after diagnosis. Unlike other cancers, patients diagnosed with even early stages of pancreatic cancer ultimately succumb to metastasis. One of the major scientific obstacles is the lack of knowledge regarding the mechanisms driving metastasis and how the cancer’s progression can be treated.

Prior research in the Dwinell Lab demonstrated that the chemokine protein, CXCL12, regulates metastasis in colorectal cancer and melanoma. Their latest key findings, published in Cancer Research, include the description of a new signaling pathway that can be specifically targeted with chemokine molecules. Drs. Dwinell and Roy found that in cell culture and pre-clinical models, new variants of the chemokine could activate this new signaling pathway. Once activated, the pancreatic cancer cells were unable to move in culture. In pre-clinical trials, they found that the new CXCL12 proteins decreased the growth and metastasis of pancreatic cancer.

“The cumulative findings of our recent reports highlight the anti-metastatic capabilities of using chemokines as potential therapies, and explain the importance of future comprehensive pre-clinical studies of these therapies specific to pancreatic cancer, particularly given the lack of effective and life-saving therapies currently available,” said Dr. Dwinell.

Dr. Dwinell and his MCW collaborator, Brian Volkman, PhD, professor of biochemistry have patent-protected the use of chemokines and novel chemokine-analogs in the treatment of metastatic cancers.  These molecules are produced in their biotech spin-off company, Protein Foundry LLC. Protein Foundry manufactures recombinant chemokines and other protein molecules for use in biomedical research and is actively pursuing additional support to move these molecules to the clinic.

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