"My laboratory is interested in the identification and understanding of mechanisms contributing to immune-mediated toxicity and anti-tumor response following immunotherapy. I am thrilled to be a recipient of The Sontag Foundation’s Distinguished Scientist Award, which will allow us to expand our findings to brain cancers that so far have been very difficult to treat with immunotherapeutics due to unique challenges. Our findings can help overcome some of these obstacles in the brain and create novel brain cancer-tailored immunotherapeutic agents."
- Dr. Verena Staedtke
- Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center/Brain Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 2015-present
About DSA-Funded Research
Immunotherapies have proven to be effective against a significant number of cancers, with the exception of brain cancers, which largely remain incurable. A particular promising therapy is adoptive transfer of patients' immune T cells, engineered to express tumor-targeting "chimeric antigen receptors" (CAR). Such CAR T cells (CART) are infused back into patients to destroy tumors. Barriers to successful CART therapy in brain tumors include dose-limiting adverse immune responses – cytokine release syndrome (CRS) and, potentially fatal neurological toxicities – as well as limited therapeutic successes. We recently identified that catecholamines that are produced by stress-exposed immune cells, drive CART-induced immunotoxicities, and that blocking catecholamine production reduced CRS and also enhanced tumor killing. We now propose to use our findings to help overcome some of the existing challenges in brain cancer immunotherapy by exploring the role of catecholamines in immunotoxicity and on CART anti-tumor actions in the brain. If successful, these results will advance our mechanistic understanding, reduce immunotoxicity, and ultimately create novel brain-specific immunotherapeutic agents that will improve patient outcomes.
"As you can see from her extraordinary line of work, Verena is exceptional in many ways – she has exceptional intelligence and knowledge, scientific insight, creativity and tenacity. I have been tremendously impressed with her talents, both experimentally and conceptually. I have seen her work through problems that would have stymied just about everyone else."
Dr. Bert Vogelstein
Johns Hopkins University
"Verena's greatest strength is her incredible creativity and analytical mind to tackle problems in the laboratory. I can assure you that there is no one that I have trained that contains a greater passion and aptitude for science than Verena. This award is perfectly suited to recognize someone like her, as her scientific career has been dedicated towards ideas and projects that will revolutionize the therapy of patients with brain tumors. She has demonstrated a commitment to endeavors that are bold, creative, innovative and novel and is destined to make a profound impact in neuro-oncology.”
Dr. Justin McArthur
Johns Hopkins University