Tumor Microenvironment

Pancreatic tumors are complex, comprised of many non-tumor cells such as fibroblasts and immune cells in addition to dense matrix proteins. All of these components are known as the tumor microenvironment. Evidence shows that the tumor microenvironment contributes to the lethality of pancreatic cancer and poor response to therapy. The Brenden-Colson Center for Pancreatic Care (BCCPC) is dedicated to understanding the pancreatic tumor microenvironment in effort to develop promising new therapies.

Ongoing Research Projects

Dr. Lisa Coussens has developed tools in addition to sophisticated analysis and visualization protocols for the evaluation of tumor immune contexture. Utilizing these techniques, Dr. Coussens is comparing the immune cell composition of primary and metastatic pancreatic tumors to investigate potential differential response to therapy in patients. This has been a major asset for the research community to utilize for comparing tumor response in individual patients in clinical trials or case studies.

Despite wide success in other cancers such as melanoma, treatment of pancreatic cancer with immunotherapies have been largely unsuccessful. Researchers in the BCCPC are investigating ways to improve response to current immunotherapies and develop novel immune therapeutic approaches. Dr. Katelyn Byrne’s research interrogates the mechanisms regulating immune response against pancreatic tumors, focusing on bridging innate and adaptive immune responses to understand and overcome immune suppression in pancreatic cancer. She is working closely with oncologist Dr. Charles Lopez to develop clinical trials utilizing promising immune oncology agents.

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy involves transferring a patient’s own T cells that have been altered to recognize their cancer and has been very successful for blood cancers, but not solid cancers. This has been largely due to difficulties with CAR T cells distinguishing between the tumor and healthy tissues. Surgeon Dr. Robert Eil is actively pursuing approaches to control the function of T cells outside of the tumor site using a novel mouse model that expresses the target antigen in multiple organ sites.

  • Algorithm for quantitative image analysis of pancreatic tumor microenvironment – Young Hwan Chang
  • Spatial analysis of stromal cell composition and heterogeneity in pancreatic cancer and precursor lesions – Koei Chin
  • MRI assessment of tumor microvasculature and macrophages following immune modulation – Alexander Guimaraes
  • Using electron microscopy to understand pancreatic cancer nanoarchitecture – Jessica Riesterer
  • 3D bioprinting of pancreatic tumor and microenvironment – Rosalie Sears
  • Evaluate immune response to therapy in phase 1B/II study examining agonistic CD40 mAb plus nab-paclitaxel/gemcitabine – Lisa Coussens
  • Novel immune checkpoint PSGL-1 in pancreatic cancer – Katelyn Byrne