Seeking cancer solutions in the immune system

May 21, 2018

Kristin Snyder, a veterinary student at the College of Veterinary Medicine, has received a Howard Hughes Medical Research Fellows award for $43,000 funded by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. She will use the award to study cancer immunotherapy in the lab of Bruce Walcheck, PhD, for 2018-2019.

The Walcheck lab is dedicated to improving cancer cell recognition by the immune system. The scientists will work to derive natural killer (NK) cells—components of the immune system that can kill cancer cells—from stem cells. The researchers then hope to arm the NK cells with a new receptor (a protein on the surface of an NK cell that binds the NK cell to the cancer cell) to improve their attachment to tumor cells. The long-term goal of the research is to administer enhanced NK cells to patients that can attack cancer cells better than the immune system alone.

“We are likely never going to figure out the cause of every type of cancer,” says Snyder, “but if we can figure out how to better direct the immune system to attack cancer, we can better utilize it to treat many cancers. That is what this project is all about.”

Snyder will work on this same research during the Boehringer Ingelheim-National Institutes of Health Veterinary Scholars Program this summer, and officially begin receiving her award for the project after the summer program ends in mid-August.

“I think veterinary medicine and human medicine need to start speaking to each other and listening to each other because we can solve so much that way,” she says. “And Dr. Walcheck is not a medical doctor or a veterinarian, he is somewhere in between and that is why I think it is so cool to work with him—he sees the big picture.”

Pictured: Kristin Snyder and her cat, Peanut. Photograph by Nathan Pasch