Obstetrics and Gynecology
Weill Cornell Medicine
Our research aims at identifying, understanding and disabling the mechanisms that aggressive tumors employ to suppress the protective function of our immune system. The ultimate goal of our research program is to create new immunotherapies capable to prevent recurrence of lethal cancers. Specifically, the Pershing Square Sohn Prize will enable us to generate and test a new class of therapeutic vaccines that could re-arm the immune system to eliminate ovarian carcinoma.
Juan R. Cubillos-Ruiz, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology in the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. Cubillos-Ruiz received a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from University of los Andes (Bogota, Colombia) in 2004, and obtained his Ph.D. in tumor immunology from Dartmouth Medical School in 2010 under the mentorship of Dr. Jose Conejo-Garcia. Cubillos-Ruiz then pursued his postdoctoral training at Harvard University and Weill Cornell Medicine in the laboratory of Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher. He has 11 years of research experience in the immuno-oncology field, and has unearthed novel approaches to re-direct the immune response against cancer. His laboratory combines molecular genetics, immunology and nanotechnology to identify, understand and disable the mechanisms that tumors use to suppress the protective function of immune cells. The overarching goal of his team is to devise more effective immunotherapies for lethal malignancies such as ovarian, bladder and pancreatic cancer. Cubillos-Ruiz recently received the Ovarian Cancer Academy-Early Career Investigator Award of the Department of Defense, the Stand Up to Cancer Innovative Research Grant and the Clinic and Laboratory Integration Program Award of the Cancer Research Institute. Cubillos-Ruiz is also Co-Founder of Quentis Therapeutics, a New York-based Biotechnology Company focused on developing the next generation of cancer immunotherapies.
Empowering cancer vaccines via control of ER stress sensors
Immunotherapy is a promising anti-cancer strategy that exploits the natural capacity of immune cells to fight tumors. It has demonstrated impressive effectiveness against lung cancer and melanoma, but other cancers are developing remarkable capacities to suppress immunotherap y success. As an example, metastatic ovarian cancer (OvCa), a devastating disease that afflicts more than 22,000 American women yearly, has evolved strategies to inhibit the anti-tumor activity of immune cells, leaving women and their loved ones with little hope for improved treatment or recovery.
“This generous prize will enable us to develop a novel class of therapeutic cancer vaccines using ‘armored’ dendritic cells with maximal functionality in the tumor microenvironment. We hope this strategy could be used as a new form of maintenance immunotherapy to prevent recurrence of aggressive malignancies such as ovarian cancer.”
This clinical research project aims at understanding the main mechanism by which ovarian tumors inhibit the activity of our immune system, and to develop new approaches to prohibit this process. The Weil Cornell Medicine team has discovered that immune cells within ovarian tumors are “stressed out” due to adverse environmental conditions that these tumors can produce. The project’s central hypothesis is that stressed out immune cells in OvCa hosts are unable to execute their crucial anti-tumoral functions. To prove this, the project will determine how OvCa induces cellular stress in the immune system, and test whether disabling “stress sensors” in immune cells could be used as a novel approach to enhance the therapeutic efficacy of cancer vaccines. If successful, the project could lead to breakthroughs for more effective immunotherapies to fight immune cell stress and dysfunction in OvCa and, hopefully, other lethal cancers.
“Innovation occurs when knowledge, curiosity and creativity act synergistically to solve a problem.”