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Kulkarni Receives American Cancer Society Grant Aimed at Developing Novel Bladder Cancer Immunotherapy

Ashish Kulkarni

Ashish Kulkarni

Assistant Professor Ashish Kulkarni of the Chemical Engineering (ChE) Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been awarded a $792,000 grant from the American Cancer Society to support his research to develop a novel combination therapy that could improve immunotherapy effects in bladder cancer patients while minimizing the side effects.

The five-year grant is titled, “Nanoscale Combination Immunotherapy for Bladder Carcinoma.”

Kulkarni directs ImmunoEngineering Research Group, an interdisciplinary team working at the interface of engineering and immunology to address challenges in clinics. The group’s mission is to treat diseases and improve human health by engineering new approaches for both fundamental understanding of the disease progression and efficient therapeutic modulation of the immune system.

As Kulkarni explains, immunotherapy is revolutionizing urothelial bladder cancer (UBC) therapy with sustained long-term survival outcomes. However, there are several challenges that need to be overcome in order to fully realize the potential of cancer immunotherapy.

“Here, we focus on two such important challenges,” says Kulkarni. The first is that “Current immunotherapy drugs are effective in only a small subset of patients. The major reason for this lower response rate is because, in the majority of UBC patients, cancer progresses by creating an environment that suppresses the host immune system.”

A second challenge, says Kulkarni, is that “There is clearly a need to target the immunotherapy agents specifically to the tumor. This is important to minimize immune-related adverse events and increase the antitumor efficacy.”

To address these challenges and others, as Kulkarni says, “We seek to design novel nanotherapeutics, which simultaneously address both the above challenges by not only targeting immunosuppressive cells in the tumor, thereby activating the tumor-specific immune response, minimizing toxicity, and increasing survival, but also maximizing the efficacy of immunotherapy.”

Kulkarni concludes that his in advancing

In addition to his ChE position, Kulkarni is also an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and a faculty member in the Institute for Applied Life Sciences and in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Graduate Program.

Kulkarni is a recipient of the Hearst Foundation Young Investigator Award, the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center Career Development Award, the American Association of Cancer Research Scholar-in-training Award, an American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Young Scientist Award, the Cancer Research Institute Technology Impact Award, and a Melanoma Research Alliance Young Investigator Award. He was recently selected as a NextGen Star in Cancer Research by the American Association for Cancer Research. (June 2019)

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