Bruce Walcheck

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PEOPLE: THE HEART OF THE CVM

Bruce Walcheck

The thrill of a new discovery and a desire to add to the medical world’s growing body of knowledge are primary drives of Dr. Bruce Walcheck. A two-decade veteran of the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, Walcheck has focused the last few years on cancer immunotherapies.

“I feel one of the more interesting aspects of my position is the discovery part, the coming up with new stories that build on the particular field we work in,” he says. “That we’re adding to the body of evidence and making new discoveries is very exciting.”

Indeed, he and his colleagues’ research has begun to pay off in big ways. Fate Therapeutics, a California-based biotechnology company, recently agreed to license from the University a non-cleavable CD16 receptor developed and patented by Walcheck and Dr. Jimmy Wu, associate professor. The company wants to develop an off-the-shelf natural-killer-cell cancer immunotherapy derived from an engineered stem-cell line expressing the non-cleavable CD16 receptor. The therapy is in preclinical trails now and is not available to the public.

“We’re thrilled to have a company actively engaged in bringing a product to market based on our research,” Walcheck says. “The product could kill tumor cells in a wide variety of cancers. But there is not one solution to cancer—there need to be many.”

Bruce Walcheck

The professor and his colleagues also have made several groundbreaking findings about the enzyme ADAM17, an acronym for “a disintegrin and metalloproteinase domain 17.” ADAM17 is a significant enzyme in the large family of ADAM proteins that regulate biologic processes such as the immune system, development, and fertilization. Increasing evidence indicates that excessive ADAM17 activity contributes to inflammatory diseases and cancer. Walcheck’s research looks at methods that could control ADAM17 to prevent disease.

Like many scientists, Walcheck’s interest in how the world works started young. The Montana native whetted his science appetite through his father, Ken Walcheck, a faculty member at Northern Montana College who was later a staff member with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, and his mother, Priscilla Walcheck, who had a background in biology.

After earning a bachelor of science degree in microbiology and a PhD in immunology at Montana State University, Walcheck debated the career choice of going into private industry or academia. 

“I did not have a big interest in becoming a faculty member, and writing grants didn’t sound appealing,” he says. But he wound up a college professor after a three-year stint at a large pharmaceutical company that restructured so often he grew frustrated. In 1997 he joined the faculty of College of Veterinary Medicine and began a career primarily as a researcher.

But that’s certainly not his only role. For the past five years, Walcheck also helped direct the Veterinary Summer Scholars Program in Comparative Medicine with funding from the National Institutes of Health. 

“It’s a nice opportunity to engage the next generation of scholars, researchers, and professors,” he says.