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Research Projects

We have created this section of our web site to inform our members of the status of Grants the Foundation is currently supporting with the grants we have issued this year.  ECEF has established a Research Subcommittee of the Medical Advisory Committee to give us guidance in determining what Research Projects ECEF will support in the future.

We have awarded a Grant, in January 2021, of $75,000.00 to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for the following research projects.

Project 1: CAR T-cell immunotherapy for esophageal cancer
Description: With the support of the Esophageal Cancer Education Foundation (ECEF), we identified mesothelin as a cancer cell-surface antigen to redirect the body’s own immune cells—T cells—to target esophageal cancer. Our laboratory developed mesothelin-targeted chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells and translated them in phase I and II clinical trials to patients with mesothelioma, lung cancer and breast cancer. Having reported that mesothelin is an effective target to treat patients with esophageal cancer, with the support of the ECEF, we applied for funding from the United States Department of Defense to conduct a phase I clinical trial for patients with esophageal cancer. I am pleased to report that we were awarded this funding, which will begin in the next quarter. In the meantime, with the support from the ECEF 2021 award, we have: a) established esophageal cancer cells with and without mesothelin expression, b) developed clinically relevant mouse models, and c) optimized the imaging modalities/protocols in these mice to monitor tumor burden. In addition, using the support from the ECEF, we tested CAR T cells against esophageal cancer cells in vitro and obtained promising results. These mouse models and results will play key roles in conducting investigational new drug (IND) studies to submit to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to obtain permission for and initiate the clinical trial for patients with esophageal cancer in 2022. The Department of Defense award can help us to investigate multiple CAR constructs to decide on which construct to move forward to the clinical trial.

Project 2: Immune microenvironment in esophageal cancer
Our laboratory’s principal focus is investigating tumor immunology and immunotherapy. The tumor immune microenvironment in esophageal cancer is not well-studied. To advance immunotherapy, it is essential to understand the basic immune microenvironment of esophageal cancer. With this in mind, we developed a well-annotated clinicopathological database consisting of well-characterized tissue from a cohort of patients with esophageal cancer from an immunotherapy clinical trial led by Dr. Geoffrey Y. Ku. Our team has developed a similar database for patients with lung cancer (>2000 patients) and published more than 20 publications to date, which were published in notable journals such as the Journal of Clinical Oncology and the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. To date, we have updated the clinical database and identified patients who have proper tissue available. Using a novel technology called multispectral immune imaging, we quantified and characterized immune cell phenotypes on tumor slides. As a control, we obtained tissue from patients with esophageal cancer who received chemoradiation therapy but not immunotherapy, and assessed their tumors with multiplex immunoimaging. Our ongoing analyses will focus on a strategy to compare the tumoral and stromal immune microenvironment in esophageal tumors of patients who received immunotherapy with or without chemoradiation therapy. The results of this project can support design of the clinical trial in project 1.

Including the $75,000 we gave as a grant to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in January 2021, our total research project support is at $951,800. 

Our goal for 2021 is to raise $50,000 that will bring us to the $1,000,000 grants from inception of ECEF.  

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© 2021 Esophageal Cancer Education Foundation