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Ludwig Scientists Highlight Epigenetic and Immunotherapy Advances at Cancer Conference

A dozen Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research scientists from around the world presented the latest advancements in basic and clinical cancer research at the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2013 in Washington, D.C. Progress in immunotherapy and epigenetics led the program with important diagnostic and treatment implications for emerging cancer therapy. "With new immunotherapy agents available to help patients with melanoma, researchers are developing prognostic biomarkers to determine who will benefit most to fully realize the potential of these treatments," explained Jedd D. Wolchok, M.D., Ph.D., director of Ludwig's Collaborative Laboratory at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center during his presentations at the AACR meeting. "By identifying targeted combinations of agents, the immune response can be improved in certain patients with melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer." Developments in immunotherapeutic treatment of ovarian cancer was highlighted in a "Meet the Expert" session with George Coukos, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Research of the University of Lausanne, in Switzerland. His presentation described current progress and future prospects in vaccine and adoptive T-cell therapy development, as well as immunomodulatory therapy tools available for immediate clinical testing. "Ovarian cancer remains a very important therapeutic challenge," commented Dr. Coukos. "With no drugs approved in two decades in the U.S. and no therapeutic targets emerging from deep sequencing analyses, immunotherapy could offer a promising new approach." Dr. Geoffrey Greene's team at the Ludwig Center at the University of Chicago analyzed epigenetic regulators called microRNAs – small pieces of ribonucleic acid that are present in all the cells in the body – to better understand treatment challenges of metastasis and chemotherapy resistance in patients with triple-negative breast cancer. "Our research used a novel human tumor xenograft model to better understand the fundamental mechanisms of these tumors," said lead author Dr. Huiping Liu, Research Associate, Ben May Department and the Ludwig Center, University of Chicago. "We know that proteins turn genes on and off, but so do microRNAs. Our team discovered a small, yet influential, microRNA known as 30c. When it is present in cells, it inhibits metastasis and improves a patient's response to chemotherapy treatment. Our findings may provide a potential new treatment target for this difficult-to-treat cancer." From Dr. Bing Ren's laboratory of gene regulation at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in San Diego, post-doctoral fellow Gary Hon, Ph.D., described how adult tissues retain an epigenetic memory of their past development. Further, Dr. Ren tutored conferees about research related to long-range control of gene expression in mammalian cells during an educational session. [Press release]