Dr. Ingunn Stromnes wins the 2017 Skip Viragh – Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – AACR Career Development Award

July 31, 2017

Congratulations to Ingunn Stromnes, PhD, for winning the 2017 Skip Viragh Career Development Award presented by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN).

In collaboration with generous donors, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) is investing an estimated $4.9 million in vital pancreatic cancer research through its competitive peer-reviewed 2017 Research Grants Program – including 17 grants to 21 researchers at 12 institutions across the country. Meet the 2017 grantees here!

This year marks the 15th anniversary of PanCAN’s Research Grants Program and the first year the organization’s grants portfolio has included a strong emphasis on two key topics in the field: precision medicine and early detection. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network-AACR Career Development Awards represent a joint effort to encourage and support junior faculty, who have completed their most recent doctoral degree or medical residency within the past 11 years, to conduct pancreatic cancer research and establish successful career paths in this field. The research proposed for funding may be basic, translational, clinical, or epidemiological in nature and must have direct applicability and relevance to pancreatic cancer.

“For the first time in our organization’s history, we requested applications focused on high-impact early detection and precision medicine grants, which will help to unveil new possibilities and treatment options,” said Julie Fleshman, JD, MBA, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “Additionally, we are continuing to invest in early-career researchers to build the community of researchers focused on this disease and funding leading-edge translational research that bridges laboratory findings and clinical impact.”

Among the 12 institutions represented in this year’s portfolio are three institutions the organization has awarded grants to for the first time: University of Cincinnati, University of Minnesota and Oregon Health & Science University. This is an encouraging indicator that the pancreatic cancer research community is strengthening and growing.

Career Development Awards are currently two-year grants of $200,000 each that are designed to attract and support junior faculty at academic and medical institutions, and foster their research in pancreatic cancer. Since 2003, the awards have been administered in partnership with the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). In 2003 and 2006, they also were administered by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). To date, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has awarded 58 Career Development Awards. Click here to learn about these grantees and their funded projects.

The 2017 Skip Viragh Career Development Award was awarded to Dr. Ingunn Stromnes a faculty member at the University of Minnesota where she and her lab will continue to push the boundaries of cellular engineering to create safe and effective immunotherapies for pancreatic cancer patients.  Dr. Stromnes has developed a new cellular immunotherapy that genetically reprograms T cells to express a tumor-reactive receptor, thereby, enabling T cells to recognize and kill pancreatic tumor cells. Over time, however, the engineered T cells become dysfunctional only within the suppressive pancreatic tumor microenvironment thereby limiting efficacy. Dr. Stromnes’s project entails studying the role the tumor microenvironment plays in inducing engineered T cell dysfunction to devise new immunotherapeutic strategies to target this disease.

Dr. Stromnes will test the hypothesis that a greater understanding of the molecular and metabolic features of engineered T cell subsets infiltrating PDA will inform new ways to manipulate T cells for greater therapeutic benefit. Dr. Stromnes and her research team will test the hypothesis that modulating non-redundant signaling pathways in T cells can safely increase anti-tumor efficacy in preclinical animal models. Promising strategies will then be evaluated in combination with modulating suppressive cells in the tumor microenvironment and further developed for clinical testing. The proposed studies are designed to identify translatable strategies to enhance the efficacy of cellular immunotherapies for pancreatic cancer patient treatment.

For more information researchers are encouraged to sign up for funding alerts via PanCAN's Research Digest curated for the pancreatic cancer research community. PanCAN’s next call for grant applications will be in Fall 2017.