Sometimes, cancer cells are able to duck the one-two punch of drugs and nature. West Virginia University chemical engineering professor David J. Klinke is working to figure out why and the National Science Foundation is backing his research.

“The emergence of resistance to targeted therapies is an increasing, and poorly understood, problem,” said Klinke, recipient of a $416,483 Faculty Early Career Development award from the NSF. “Without a better understanding of how cancer cells resist the action of molecular targeted therapies, designing effective treatments will remain limited.”

According to Klinke, the underlying idea he aims to test is that cancer cells fight back. They secrete biochemical signals that interfere with how natural killer cells recognize and destroy cancer cells that monoclonal antibodies have labeled.

A monoclonal antibody is produced naturally by the body but can also be engineered commercially to attach itself to specific molecules displayed on the surface in cancer cells. By labeling the cancer cells, they attract natural killer cells, the body’s natural first-line of defense in attacking tumors and virally infected cells, to do their job.

His research, using aspects of cellular engineering, immunology, cancer biology, and computationally intensive model-based inference, will attempt to understand this “cross-talk” between cancer cells and natural killer cells. Klinke is an expert in the emerging field of systems biology, a field that integrates mathematical modeling with experimental study to better understand biological systems.

“Model-based inference is the process of encoding our prior knowledge of how cells interpret biochemical signals in the form of a mathematical model,” he said. “We then update our knowledge by testing whether our prior knowledge is consistent with the experimental data.”

The CAREER Program offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.

Klinke is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at WVU’s College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. He is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Cell Biology and the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center at WVU’s School of Medicine. He has authored 30 publications and holds two patents.



CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon; College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

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