My research focuses on finding novel immunosuppressive pathways in the tumor microenvironment. My previous research has shown that the signaling through adrenergic receptors impair adaptive and innate immune cells’ function and promote immunosuppression. I am currently investigating the role of neurotransmitters in the tumor microenvironment and trying to uncover novel immunosuppressive pathways that can be targeted by repurposing drugs.
My goal is to understand the long-term effect of immune checkpoint blockade therapy. Anti-cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen-4 (anti-CTLA-4) treatment induces a low response rate (~11%), while anti-programmed cell death-1 (anti-PD-1) treatment mediates a relatively higher response rate (~30%) in patients with melanoma. Both anti-CTLA-4 and anti-PD-1 induce durable responses and mediate a 22% 10-year and 34% 5-year survival rate respectively. However, in order to achieve the durable response, continuous treatment of anti-PD-1 has to be administered while anti-CTLA-4 treatment can only be administered for a short period of time. In addition, 25% of patients who initially respond to these treatment relapse within 2 years. Therefore, it is important to understand the differential effect of checkpoint blockade treatments on the formation of immunological memory.
Dongrui Wang received his PhD from City of Hope Medical Center in California, where he developed chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies targeting brain tumors. His research will focus on understanding the changes that occur in immune cells in response to immune checkpoint blockade therapy including anti-CTLA4 and anti-PD1. As immune checkpoint blockade has resulted in mixed outcomes in patients, it is critical to identify key components of immune cells that mediate the antitumor responses and respond to the therapy. The study also aims to develop combinational approach to further enhance the efficacy of immune checkpoint blockade.
Prior to joining UT MD Anderson, Alex conducted immuno-oncology research at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard Medical School, and the National Institutes of Health. She joined the Allison Lab in the Spring of 2017 and has focused her work on how to improve response and overcome resistance to immune checkpoint blockade. To that end, she has investigated two specific areas of research, 1)Fundamental mechanisms of checkpoint blockade, 2)The influence of the gut microbiome on checkpoint blockade. Alex's research on the underlying mechanisms of immune checkpoint blockade has identified non-redundant drivers of local and systemic immune responses. This line of research has informed the rational design of new combinatorial therapeutic options in the setting of patient response and resistance. In examining how the gut microbiome influences patient response, her work has unveiled unique shared immune and microbiome signatures associated with cancer outcomes. To build on this work, Alex has collaborated with ONCOBIOME, a global platform based in Paris, France, that is enrolling over 9,000 patients across 16 countries to address how the microbiome and the immune system impact cancer incidence and prognosis. She anticipates that insights gained with this work will have an inclusive impact in oncology and provide actionable frameworks with which to broadly assess disease.
My research focuses on prompting the immune system to attack tumor cells using Newcastle disease virus. Newcastle disease virus specifically targets and kills cancer cells, releasing both tumor and viral antigens that stimulate an immune response which then enables immune cell-mediated tumor lysis. By combining Newcastle disease virus with checkpoint blockade, we aim to train the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells, and prevent future relapses.
Current: Sr. Scientist, Spotlight Therapeutics, Hayward, CA
Sr. Research Assistant
Current: PhD student at UCSD