UF chemical engineering researcher receives grants to advance cancer immunotherapy research

A University of Florida chemical and biomedical engineering researcher has received three grants that will use a novel type of imaging to advance research on cancer immunotherapy treatment and brain injury. The studies aim to provide researchers and clinicians with key insight into how patients with cancers such as refractory brain tumors respond to immunotherapy treatment.

Carlos Rinaldi-Ramos, Ph.D.

Carlos Rinaldi-Ramos, Ph.D., the Dean’s Leadership Professor and chair of the UF department of chemical engineering, received a $1.8 million R01 grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering for his project, titled “Nanoparticles to Track T Cell Immunotherapy Using Magnetic Particle Imaging.”

He also received a $374,641 R21 grant from the National Cancer Institute, titled “Nanoparticles for In Vivo Labeling of T Cells During Cancer Immunotherapy.” Additionally, he received a $400,685 R21 grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, titled “Innovative Non-invasive Imaging of Traumatic Brain Injury.”

Adoptive T cell therapy is a form of immunotherapy, a treatment that harnesses the power of a person’s own immune system to fight cancer. This type of therapy has immense potential to treat recurring cancer, such as glioblastoma, Rinaldi-Ramos said.

A vital step in the success of immunotherapy in solid tumor cancers is achieving trafficking and persistence of T cells at tumor sites while avoiding toxicities due to T cells attacking off-target tissues and organs. Rinaldi-Ramos’ goal is to develop nanoparticle tracers for high-sensitivity and high-resolution quantitative and non-invasive imaging of the tumor trafficking and the persistence of immune cells and immunotherapies.

“These projects will pioneer non-invasive and quantitative tracking of adoptive T cell cancer immunotherapy and T cell accumulation in tumors in response to cancer immunotherapy using a new molecular imaging modality called magnetic particle imaging,” said Rinaldi-Ramos, a member of the UF Health Cancer Center’s Cancer Therapeutics & Host Response research program. “Non-invasive quantitative imaging of immune cell accumulation in solid tumors is a powerful tool to evaluate response to therapy, providing scientists mechanistic insight and clinicians with information needed to make treatment planning decisions.”

Rinaldi-Ramos, who is also a professor in the J. Clayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering, is collaborating on the two cancer-focused projects with Lan Hoang-Minh, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Lillian S. Wells Department of Neurosurgery and a UF Health Cancer Center member, and Duane Mitchell, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the Preston A. Wells Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy and associate director for innovation and discovery at the Cancer Center.

He is collaborating on the traumatic brain injury project with Lakiesha Williams, Ph.D., associate professor in the J. Clayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering, and Marcelo Febo, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of translational research imaging in the departments of psychiatry and neuroscience in the UF College of Medicine.

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