For its second annual retreat, the Virginia Tech Cancer Research Alliance is broadening its reach and opportunities for collaboration and innovation.

The 2023 event will take place May 24-25 in Washington, D.C., at the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus. Virginia Tech and Children’s National forged a partnership around investigating childhood cancers four years ago, at approximately the same time the Virginia Tech Cancer Research Alliance was founded.

“Combining our complementary skills in basic research, clinical oncology, and entrepreneurship is central to translating fundamental discoveries to patients in the fight against cancer,” said Samy Lamouille, assistant professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, co-director of the cancer research alliance, and co-chair of the retreat. “This event with Children’s National represents a fantastic opportunity to communicate our current research with each other while consolidating and creating new collaborations within the Virginia Tech community and with colleagues from other Institutions in the region.”

Notable cancer researcher Jay Berzofsky, chief of the vaccine branch, senior investigator, and head of the Molecular Immunogenetics and Vaccine Research Section in the Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute, will discuss cancer vaccine studies during his keynote presentation.

Berzofsky studies the biochemical and cellular function of signature molecules called antigens which, when presented in the surfaces of cells, trigger an immune response. His extensive work, supported by over 400 publications in the field, has shaped researchers’ understanding of how antigens are processed, presented, and recognized by regulatory immune cells. That knowledge has translated into the design of vaccines for diseases like AIDS, malaria, cancer, and viruses that cause cancer.

The event will include faculty, staff, trainees, and students from Virginia Tech, the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, Carilion Clinic, Children’s National, George Washington University, George Mason University, and Harvard University/Massachusetts General Hospital.

“The inaugural retreat of the Virginia Cancer Research Alliance was a significant step to connect attendees across academic units and health care organizations in the region,” said Carla Finkielstein, professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, a co-director of the cancer research alliance, and co-chair of the retreat. “This year’s retreat builds on that same goal of showcasing the latest advancements in cancer detection, diagnosis, and treatment developed and implemented by our researchers and clinicians.”

Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology, and Vittorio Gallo, interim chief academic officer at Children’s National Hospital and interim director of the Children’s National Research Institute, are the event’s co-hosts.

“The Virginia Tech Cancer Research Alliance was founded to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration and innovation to fight this disease in all its forms,” Friedlander said. “The retreat represents the promise for delivering novel preventions, diagnostics, and therapeutics for a variety of cancers. Its strength derives from the scientists, staff, students, and trainees from a range of institutions who are taking part.”

Researchers presenting at the event include:

  • Catherine Bollard, director, Center for Cancer and Immunology Research at the Children’s National Research Institute; director, Program for Cell Enhancement and Technologies for Immunotherapy, Children's National Research Institute — “Cell Therapies for Pediatric Solid Tumors — Beyond Conventional CAR-T”
  • Carla Finkielstein, professor, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC; co-director, Virginia Tech Cancer Research Alliance — “Circadian Control of Checkpoint Signaling and Tumor Growth”
  • Eugene Hwang, associate division chief, oncology; site principal investigator of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium, Children's National Hospital — “How Can We Help Immunotherapy Beat Back Pediatric Brain Cancers? A Brief Review of Novel Challenges and Strategies”
  • Liwu Li, professor, Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science; director, Program in Genetics, Biotechnology, and Computational Biology, Virginia Tech — “Reprogramming of Innate Immune Memory in the Treatment of Cancer”
  • Kathleen Mulvaney, assistant professor, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute — “PRMT5 Substrate Recruitment as a Therapeutic Target in CDKN2A/MTAP Null Cancer”
  • Joanne Tuohy, assistant professor, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences and Animal Cancer Care and Research Center, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine; diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgeons (Small Animal) — “Developing Histotripsy and H-FIRE for Osteosarcoma and Lung Cancers”
  • Eli Vlaisavljevich, associate professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, College of Engineering, Virginia Tech — “Non-invasive Tumor Ablation Using Histotripsy: Basic Mechanisms, Clinical Translation, and Emerging Applications”
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