2018 SSO Young Investigator Award Will Fund Michael Lowe's Study of Potential Therapy to Fight Melanoma

March 2018

Michael Lowe, MD, MA, assistant professor of surgery, Emory Division of Surgical Oncology, is the 2018 recipient of the Society of Surgical Oncology's (SSO) Young Investigator Award. He accepted the award at the 71st SSO Annual Cancer Symposium, held March 21-24 in Chicago.

The SSO Foundation Young Investigator Award was established to promote and recognize clinical/translational research that advances innovative ideas and concepts designed to improve health outcomes through advances in the delivery of cancer-related care. In honor of Donald L. Morton, MD, a pioneer in melanoma research, the 2018 installment of the $25,000 award called for melanoma-related research projects. The Morton Fund, a restricted fund comprised of individual donations given in Dr. Morton's memory, provided a portion of the 2018 award.

The award will be applied to Dr. Lowe's study, "Evaluation of FcyRIIB as a Novel T cell Inhibitor in Cutaneous Melanoma," which is concerned with investigating new pathways to enhance the immune system's response to melanoma. Specifically, he will focus on defining the role of the Fc receptor FcyRIIB in promoting exhaustion in T cell responses to tumor growth, and then will examine the benefits of blocking FcyRIIB's ability to alter T cell responses.

Fc receptors are proteins found on the surface of certain immune cells, including T cells, that recognize antigens and assist in triggering the immune response. FcyRIIB is the only known inhibitory Fc receptor and is conserved in both mice and humans.

"Studies we have conducted in a mouse model of melanoma show that eliminating FcyRIIB expression results in an enhanced tumor-specific T cell response," says Dr. Lowe. "We hypothesize that the inhibitory FcyRIIB receptor plays a similar role in suppressing the T cell response in human melanoma, thus promoting tumor growth, and that blocking FcyRIIB will enhance CD8+ T cell function and activation in patients with melanoma."

Dr. Lowe and his team, consisting of a research fellow and his research mentor Mandy Ford, PhD, scientific director, Emory Transplant Center, will test this hypothesis by assessing the effects of the ex vivo blockade of FcyRIIB on T cell phenotype and functionality in treatment-naïve patients with melanoma. They will also analyze the impact of FcyRIIB blockade on T cells of patients treated with checkpoint inhibitors, the drugs that target immune cells that have been "tricked" by cancer to inactivate the immune system. Finally, using an antagonistic antibody to FcyRIIB, the investigators will determine if there is an upregulation of FcyRIIB on the tumor-infiltrating T cells in patients undergoing surgery for melanoma and evaluate the effect of blocking FcyRIIB expression on these cells.

"Ideally, the study results will provide the rationale for expanding the use of reagents designed to target the FcyRIIB pathway to patients with advanced melanoma," says Dr. Lowe.   

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