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Shannon Oda Awarded Washington State Cancer Research Grant

Dr. Shannon Oda

Sept. 18, 2023 – Congratulations to Dr. Shannon Oda, principal investigator in Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, for her two-year Breakthrough Seed Funding grant from the Andy Hill Cancer Research Endowment (CARE) Fund. Oda was one of six inaugural grantees to receive support collectively totaling over $2 million for early-stage research projects in promising areas of cancer research.

Cancer cells and the microenvironment they create can set up barriers that block effective immunotherapy treatment. To protect cancer from the immune system, cancer cells send out signals that interfere with the activation of immune cells that can eradicate cancer.

The Oda Lab’s research aims to boost the effectiveness of adoptive cell therapy (ACT), a promising immunotherapy treatment option that uses genetically modified immune cells to eliminate tumors. To create cell therapies, a small number of immune cells called T cells are removed from a patient’s blood, their genetic instructions are changed to target cancer, and then the T cells are infused back into the patient to seek out and destroy tumor cells.

This therapy was shown to be effective to treat some blood cancers; however, ACT has yet to show impressive efficacy for other cancers, especially solid tumors, such as pancreatic or brain cancers. Tumor cells send signals in the form of inhibitory proteins to T cells, which prevent them from becoming fully activated and, in many cases, shut them down altogether.

“Our lab focuses on making the next generation of immunotherapies more effective and available to a broader patient population,” said Oda, who is also an assistant professor of Pediatrics and an adjunct assistant professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, University of Washington School of Medicine.

“ACT provides the opportunity to genetically modify T cells to generate a ‘living drug’ that can recognize and destroy tumors. We aim to replace other therapies that are less specific to tumors and can cause toxicities. In contrast, T cells can be engineered to be exquisitely tumor-specific and can actively locate and infiltrate tumors,” she said. “We are developing a novel, two-pronged strategy to both ‘supercharge’ T cells to boost the ability to eradicate tumor and also catalyze an antitumor response from immune cells already in the patient. We are developing our technology for blood tumors, including acute myeloid leukemia (AML), as well as solid tumors, including pancreatic and pediatric central nervous system (CNS) cancers.”

Oda said this investment will allow her to expand her lab team, as well as provide critical reagents and core services to advance her studies. She will match the CARE Fund grant with her own seed funding, a requirement of the state’s public-private partnership model.

The CARE Fund was signed into law by Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee in 2015, enabling a state match of up to $10 million annually to fund cancer research in Washington. The CARE Fund’s Breakthrough Seed Funding grants encourage and support life science companies, entrepreneurs and researchers to explore and develop innovative ideas and strategies to substantially advance cancer research and care, from root causes to survivorship. The fund is dedicated to the late Sen. Andy Hill, a public champion of cancer research.

— Colleen Steelquist

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