Skip to main content

DOD Funding Awarded to Pursue Kidney Cancer Immunotherapy

BY Jonathan King
Left to right: Hua Wang and Rohit Bhargava

Left to right: Hua Wang and Rohit Bhargava. / L. Brian Stauffer

Hua Wang (RBTE) and Rohit Bhargava (CGD) in collaboration with clinical partners Dr. Kanishka Sircar and Dr. Jose Karam at MD Anderson, received a four-year, $1.1 million grant from the Department of Defense (DOD) Congressional Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) to explore novel immunotherapy strategies to treat kidney cancer, with the Cancer Center at Illinois (CCIL).

About 80,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with kidney cancer who suffer from the limited efficacy of current radiation therapy and chemotherapy methods. These low response rates and severe side effects motivate the DOD’s Kidney Cancer Research Program to better understand kidney cancer biology and discover and develop novel therapeutic strategies for treating kidney cancer.

Wang, Bhargava, Sircar, and Karam’s team will target renal cancer-specific neoantigens (renal cell carcinoma is the primary type of kidney cancer) and adjuvants to dendritic cells in the lymph nodes, where dendritic cells present the tumor neoantigens and subsequently generate tumor-specific killer T cells, to develop potent dendritic cell-targeted cancer immunotherapies for treating renal cancer.

The team will use an injectable macroporous material system designed in Wang’s lab to actively recruit and tag dendritic cells. These tagged dendritic cells can migrate to lymph nodes and specifically capture tumor antigens, adjuvants, and cytokines to develop robust cancer immunotherapies. If successful, the project will lead to the development of enhanced cancer vaccines and cytokine therapies for treating renal cancer.

Dr. Sircar and Dr. Karam at MD Anderson Cancer Center will bring expertise in renal cancer biology and therapies and provide human kidney cancer samples, Bhargava’s chemical imaging lab will use chemical imaging methods to map the distribution and activity of immune cells in kidney tumors, and all labs will work together to identify tumor neoantigens via a series of sequencing, epitope prediction, and antigen screening steps. The identified neoantigens, combined with the above-mentioned dendritic cell homing material, will enable us to develop personalized cancer vaccines for renal cancer.

Wang’s young lab has made tremendous strides in recent years, and this grant is a welcome boost to his lab’s continued push toward effective cancer immunotherapy technologies. “This is my lab’s first grant from the CDMRP program, which is strategically focused on funding novel and translatable ideas, and is a morale booster to me and my group members. We are excited that others see the translation value of our research. This award provides a great opportunity for us to work closely with MD Anderson partners and move forward our newly developed cancer immunotherapies. In the long run, our team will build a robust immunotherapy platform for future translation efforts,” said Wang.

“I am very grateful for the CCIL, which has consistently been a strong supporter of our research,” added Wang. “This award highlights the early, foundational support our lab received to help us get to this stage in our lab’s cancer research.”


Hua Wang is an Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and is an affiliate of the Department of Bioengineering, the Materials Research Laboratory, the Beckman Institute, the Carle College of Medicine, and the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.

Related Articles

News Archive