The goal of cancer immunotherapy is to utilize the patient?s immune system to reject the invading ?foreign? tumor. However, the pancreatic cancer microenvironment is characterized by an abundance of immunosuppressive cells and a dense stroma that prevents infiltration of anti-tumor immune cells. Electroporation is a technique that has been utilized for decades in the laboratory; electrical voltage is applied to cells to make holes for delivery of DNA and RNA. Irreversible electroporation (IRE) is a technique now being used clinically for ablation of localized tumors that cannot be removed surgically (locally advanced tumors). Our objective is to use IRE as an in situ vaccine to help the host recognize foreign tumor proteins (neoantigens) and generate anti-tumor immune responses that will decrease recurrence rates. We have utilized mouse models of pancreatic cancer to show that IRE generates anti-tumor immune cells that prevent growth of new tumors (prophylactic immunity). We hypothesize that combining IRE with agents that augment the immune response will result in inhibition of established, distant tumors (therapeutic immunity or ?abscopal? effects).
In Aim 1, we will use mouse models to compare the effects of IRE to radiation therapy (XRT), as this is the most relevant clinical comparator. Both methods are used clinically for the ablation (killing) of locally advanced pancreatic cancer but have been shown stimulate systemic immune responses in preclinical models. We hypothesize that IRE will induce stronger immune responses because XRT causes fibrosis (scarring) that will inhibit immune cell infiltration.
In Aim 2, we will combine local ablation with local delivery of agents that stimulate the innate immune system in mouse models of metastatic pancreatic cancer.
In Aim 3, we will use a novel model in which human tumors and their associated immune cells are implanted into immunocompromised mice in order to create a ?humanized? immune system. We will use this model to study the effects of IRE on human tumors. We have assembled a multi-disciplinary team that encompasses broad expertise in IRE, mouse tumor models, stromal biology, immunotherapy, clinical trials, and clinical care of patients with pancreatic cancer. We envision that the combination of IRE with immunotherapy will be first beneficial to patients with locally advanced pancreatic cancer. However, if effective, this approach may also be beneficial to patients with metastatic disease. Since the IRE technique is already in use clinically, a clinical trial in which one or more of the agents to be studied is delivered during or after IRE as adjuvant therapy would likely be feasible in the near future. We will use data from the proposed research to design such a study.

Public Health Relevance

Most of the over 40,000 patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in this country will die from metastatic disease. Irreversible electroporation (IRE) is a non-thermal ablation technique that is currently being used clinically to treat locally advanced tumors. The goal of this research is to understand effects of IRE on the immune system and to augment these effects using immunotherapy agents to eradicate distant micrometastatic disease.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Bourcier, Katarzyna
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University of California, San Diego
Schools of Medicine
La Jolla
United States
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