E. John Wherry, PhD
E. John Wherry, PhD, a cancer and immunology researcher at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the most highly cited investigators in his field, has been awarded a “Convergence 2.0” research grant by Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) to investigate immune system response to cancers. Dr. Wherry, the Richard and Barbara Schiffrin President’s Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Director of the Institute for Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania, will co-lead an 11-member, multidisciplinary team effort titled “Connecting Immune Health and Tumor Biology in Gynecologic Cancers.”
The initiative is 1 of 7 broad-based research teams drawn from the nation’s top academic research centers that will receive a total of $11 million over a 3-year period. Each team will include experts in the life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering and will partner with machine-learning experts from -Microsoft to identify critical aspects of the interaction between cancer and the immune system, with a goal of identifying successful current treatments and developing new ones.
Using de-identified patient data, the teams will examine how individuals vary in their immune responses to different anticancer therapies. As part of this process, the researchers will scrutinize information on patients’ genomes, imaging studies, and other data.
Focus of Research
Dr. Wherry’s team will focus primarily on DNA-mismatch repair. The -Wherry team hypothesizes that tumors with a high mutational burden fail to respond to checkpoint inhibition because of an immune dysfunction that is based on the mechanism for the mismatch-repair deficiency. The researchers will conduct two clinical trials to test whether: (1) factors inherent to the tumors affect the response to checkpoint inhibition; (2) immune function and quality affect response to checkpoint inhibition; and (3) blood markers may reflect tumor-immune system interaction.
Dr. Wherry will also be a collaborator on a team led by Ernest Fraenkel, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The team members will use artificial intelligence to determine which patients are most likely to benefit from a particular cancer immunotherapy. They will use machine learning and natural language processing to integrate diverse types of data, such as lab values and observational data recorded in electronic medical records. ■