NIH awards two grants to Drs. Crittenden and Gough

September 12, 2016

The National Institutes of Health has awarded two significant grants to Providence Cancer Center researchers Marka R. Crittenden, M.D., Ph.D., and Michael J. Gough, Ph.D.

NIH R01 Funding Award –
answering provocative questions about immunotherapy and pancreatic cancer

Drs. Crittenden and Gough received a highly competitive NIH R01 Award for their response to the National Cancer Institute’s Provocative Questions Initiative, which seeks “bold new approaches to answer 12 perplexing scientific questions.” The program supports research aimed at solving specific problems and paradoxes in cancer research. Drs. Crittenden and Gough responded to Provocative Question 11, which focuses on defining the mechanisms that make immunotherapy more effective, less effective or more toxic when it is combined with standard therapies.

The five-year award will support the scientists’ efforts to develop new immunotherapies for pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is particularly difficult to treat using conventional therapies. In this project, Drs. Crittenden and Gough and their team will examine how best to integrate new immunotherapies into treatment. “The research builds on recent discoveries by this group of scientists and physicians that have identified limitations in conventional therapies and barriers that prevent the patient’s own immune response from controlling pancreatic cancer,” says Walter J. Urba, M.D., Ph.D., director of cancer research at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute (EACRI), and physician director of research for Providence Health & Services – Oregon.

“This award supports Marka and Michael’s Integrated Therapeutics Laboratory and the team of scientists and physicians that collaborates to develop and test new pancreatic cancer treatments in the laboratory and the clinic,” says Dr. Urba. “This group has now received funding from the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute and the biotechnology industry to provide new options for patients with pancreatic cancer.”

The group, based at Providence Portland Medical Center, has ongoing clinical studies testing therapies for patients with pancreatic cancer.

NIH Exploratory/Development Research Grant Award (R21) –
exploring Listeria monocytogenes strains as potential cancer-fighting vaccines

Drs. Crittenden and Gough also received an NIH Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Award (R21). These awards provide support in the early stages for “exploratory, novel studies that break new ground or extend previous discoveries,” or “high-risk high-reward studies that may lead to a breakthrough in a particular area.”

The proposal for this two-year grant project had its genesis in the lab of Keith Bahjat, Ph.D. (formerly of EACRI), where research scientist Alejandro Alice, Ph.D., developed the novel Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) strain vaccine. The grant will support this work, allowing the team to further evaluate the role of gamma delta T cells in limiting conventional T cell responses, and to determine whether there may be a new Listeria monocytogenes strain that would be a more effective vaccine. Congratulations Drs. Crittenden, Gough and Alice!