NCI Grant Supporting UAMS Research to Improve Cancer Treatment for Patients Lacking Good Gut Bacteria

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UAMS’ Ruud PM Dings, Ph.D., hopes to improve treatment outcomes for cancer patients without good gut bacteria. Image by Bryan Clifton

Oct 26 2021 | LITTLE ROCK – A research team from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) will use a grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study promising new ways to improve the effectiveness of a common cancer treatment for patients without beneficial gut bacteria.

Ruud Dings, Ph.D., in his lab. Bryan Clifton

The five-year grant of nearly $2 million is led by Ruud PM Dings, Ph.D., M.Sc., an assistant professor at the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Radiation Oncology. The funding will support his goal to improve the effectiveness of cellular immunotherapy for melanoma, which works in only about 50% of patients. Cellular immunotherapy uses the cells of the body’s immune system to fight cancer.

Cancer patients are prone to infections and are increasingly using antibiotics during cancer treatment. The antibiotics then disrupt their microbiome, which Dings and his team say limits the ability of cancer-fighting white blood cells to reach the tumor. This happens because the lack of good bacteria reduces the production of an adhesion molecule in the tumor’s blood vessels, which white blood cells need to reach the tumor. The findings are published in the journal Cancer Research.

“We’ve already shown that we can actually improve the amount of white blood cells that infiltrate the tumor by using a drug that increases the amount of adhesion molecules on the tumor vasculature,” Dings said. “It’s a boost to the immune system and provides a more robust anti-tumor response.”

The research turns out to be unique to UAMS. Dings said he knows of no other lab that studies tumor vasculature changes in the context of antibiotic-induced microbiome disruption.

“Currently, only about 1% of white blood cells infiltrate the tumor during cellular immunotherapy, so we have a huge opportunity ahead of us,” Dings said. “We hope that in five years we will have an experimental drug to take into a phase one clinical trial.”

Dings’ project is an interdisciplinary collaboration with researchers from the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute:

Martin Cannon, Ph.D., professor, College of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology Robert J. Griffin, Ph.D., professor, College of Medicine, Department of Radiation Oncology Michael Robeson II, Ph.D., assistant professor , College of Medicine, Department of Biomedical Informatics Eric Siegel, M.Sc., UAMS Department of Biostatistics

The team also includes Kieng B. Vang, an immunologist at the University of Arkansas at the Little Rock Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences.

UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university, with colleges of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, health professions, and public health; a graduate school; Hopital; a main campus in Little Rock; a regional campus in Northwest Arkansas in Fayetteville; a nationwide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute, and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation . UAMS includes UAMS Health, a state-wide health system that includes all of UAMS’ clinical businesses, including the hospital, regional clinics, and clinics it operates or staffs in partnership with other providers. UAMS is the only Level 1 adult trauma center in the state. US News & World Report recognized UAMS Medical Center as Best Hospital for 2021-22; placed its Ear, Nose, and Throat program in the top 50 nationwide for its third year; and named five areas as high-performing — colon cancer surgery, diabetes, hip replacement, knee replacement, and stroke. Forbes magazine ranked UAMS seventh in the nation on its list of the best employers for diversity. UAMS also ranked in the top 30% in the country on Forbes’ Best Employers for Women list and was the only employer in Arkansas. UAMS has 2,876 students, 898 medical residents and six dentists. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who care for patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children’s, the VA Medical Center, and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.

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