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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 13, 2008

Pharmacy researcher to use American Cancer Society grant for melanoma research

Aliasger Salem, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmaceutics in the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, has received a four-year $717,000 American Cancer Society Research Scholar Award to develop a vaccine to treat and prevent melanoma.

Salem will conduct the research in collaboration with George Weiner, M.D., professor of internal medicine in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and director of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI.

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and accounts for about 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 62,480 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed, and 8,420 people are expected to die from melanoma in 2008. Present therapies for melanoma include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

The UI study aims to develop a vaccine based on biodegradable microparticles that deliver a combination of molecules to the immune system to generate a strong, sustained immune response against melanoma.

"Although the focus of this study is on the treatment of melanoma, this innovative and potent technology will have potential for applications in a wide range of cancer types," said Salem, who also is a member of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI.

The research will build on work showing that Toll-like receptor (TLR) ligands have significant potential in stimulating strong immune responses against a variety of cancers. Salem and Weiner have recently shown that one group of TLR ligands called cytosine-phosphorothioate-guanine oligodeoxynucleotides (CpG ODN) that bind to a particular Toll-like receptor, produce much stronger immune responses when they are delivered in biodegradable microparticles.

The UI team will develop microparticles that entrap tumor-specific antigens and TLR ligands. The microparticles, which are nontoxic to cells, protect their molecular cargo from enzymatic degradation and enable preferential uptake of the TLR ligands and antigens by certain immune system cells. The microparticle delivery system also provides sustained release of antigens and TLR ligands thereby enhancing the overall immune response.

In addition, microparticles can be packaged, scaled up, and stored easily, which makes them an attractive option from a manufacturing perspective.

"This approach is the first ever to rationally design a delivery system to target multiple synergistic Toll-like receptors," Salem said.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: Jennifer Brown, 319-335-9917,