Newswise — EVANSTON, Ill. - A significant gift from philanthropists Eden ’90 and Steven Romick ’85 to Northwestern University has established a collaborative international partnership between Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel focused on cancer immunotherapy research.
Harnessing the protective power of the immune system to combat cancer and prevent its recurrence is a long-sought goal of cancer treatment. The new research partnership will focus on improved understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of different immunotherapies. This knowledge would have a lasting positive impact, contributing significantly to basic life science and, in particular, cancer treatment.
“This partnership is an exciting opportunity to combine complementary approaches to tackle this cancer research challenge,” said Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern. “We are very grateful to Eden and Steven Romick for their visionary support.”
The gift, which will support the cancer research program and a new postdoctoral fellow position, counts toward We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, a $3.75 billion University-wide fundraising effort.
As alumni and parents, the Romicks are longtime Northwestern volunteers and supporters. Steven Romick graduated from the School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) with a bachelor’s degree in education in 1985, and Eden (Salenger) Romick graduated from the School of Communication with a bachelor’s degree in radio/television/film in 1990. They are parents of a current Northwestern freshman.
The Romicks serve as members of the “We Will” Campaign’s Los Angeles Regional Campaign Committee as well as the Los Angeles regional board of the Northwestern University Leadership Circle. In addition, Eden is a member of the School of Communication’s National Advisory Council, and Steven co-chaired his 30th class reunion.
With 26 total years of giving to Northwestern, the Romicks are members of NU Loyal, the society recognizing consistent annual giving to Northwestern. The couple has supported a number of areas across the University, including the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, School of Communication, SESP, McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Student Affairs.
“Eden and I are pleased to bring together two leading research institutions,” said Steven Romick, who also is a member of the Weizmann Institute’s board of directors. “We take great pride in partnering with Northwestern and Weizmann to help them advance important cancer research and accelerate other scientific discoveries that can improve lives.”
The immune system is the body’s defender, working to identify and eliminate pathogens, toxins and metabolic waste. When not needed, immune system cells can go dormant, awaiting a call to action. Cancer immunotherapies reactivate latent immune system cells that are specific to particular tumors (called T-cells) by blocking the mechanisms keeping the cells quiescent. These revolutionary therapies rely on the ability to find just the right buzzer to jolt a latent cell out of lethargy. Tumors, determined to stick around, actively evolve to evade waking the immune system.
Studies have shown that T-cell dysfunction comes in a variety of forms; however, scientists’ understanding of the diversity of dysfunctional states of T-cells within the tumor micro-environment is incomplete. Likewise, they do not know which cell states can or cannot be reawakened by existing therapies. Importantly, current methods that investigate bulk populations of cells lack the resolution to identify and analyze the diverse subpopulations of cells and the unique pathways and checkpoints they activate within the tumor ecosystem.
Chad A. Mirkin, the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology, and Ido Amit, professor in the Weizmann Institute’s department of immunology, along with their research teams, will work together to:
- Understand the states of T-cell dysfunction in human non-small-cell lung carcinoma and melanoma
- Reveal how these states are determined by either surrounding tumor cells or surrounding blood and connective tissue cells
- Determine which cell states do or do not react to antibodies (i.e., PD-1) to T-cell inhibitory receptors
This collaborative research will help identify both target cell types and target molecules for therapeutic manipulation. Moreover, this research will provide tools for predicting tumor response, markers for rapid and effective tumor subtype characterization and in-depth models that can lead to the identification of novel immune modulatory pathways and further optimization of strategies for T-cell activation.
Finally, this project will help train, support and encourage the careers of promising young scientists. Eden and Steven Romick Postdoctoral Fellowships are being established at Northwestern and at Weizmann.
“Understanding how cancers evade the immune system will provide fundamental insight into how to develop immunotherapies that better adapt the immune system to target cancer cells,” said Brian Meckes, a postdoctoral fellow in Mirkin’s lab who has been named the first Eden and Steven Romick Postdoctoral Fellow.
“I am excited to contribute to research that has the potential to impact the lives of people around the globe through development of better therapeutic strategies, and I’m thankful for the generous support from Eden and Steven Romick,” Meckes said.
The International Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern University is recognized as a global hub of excellence in the field and unites more than $1 billion in nanotechnology research, education and supporting infrastructure.
The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is one of the world’s top-ranking multidisciplinary research institutions. Noted for its wide-ranging exploration of the natural and exact sciences, the institute is home to 3,000 scientists, students, technicians and supporting staff.
The funds raised through We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern are helping realize the transformational vision set forth in Northwestern’s strategic plan and solidify the University’s position among the world’s leading research universities. More information on the “We Will” Campaign is available at wewill.northwestern.edu.