Dr. Stephan joined the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) as Assistant Member in 2012 to establish a research program that will steer the implementation of next-generation ovarian cancer therapies derived from smart biomaterials and nanotechnology. During his postdoctoral training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Stephan specialized in synthesizing and applying synthetic material to manipulate immune cells (Nat. Med. 2010 Sep). Coupled with his PhD training in tumor immunology at Cornell University (Nat. Med. 2007 Dec), this experience places Dr. Stephan in an excellent position to develop novel bioengineering approaches for safe and effective ovarian cancer therapy. In recognition of the success he has already achieved, which has been highlighted in a number of reviews, Dr. Stephan was recognized with the “Future Leader in Translational Medicine Award” by the American Academy for Cancer Research, and the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Stephan’s Liz Tilberis Early Career Award is aimed at creating a new nanoparticle-based reagent that can quickly reprogram a patient’s own white blood cells (specifically T-cells) to recognize and destroy ovarian tumor cells. Dr. Stephan’s vision is that genetic engineering of T cells, which researchers currently perform in the laboratory, could one day be accomplished directly in ovarian cancer patients. Instead of drawing blood, isolating T cells, genetically modifying them to target the ovarian tumor, growing billions of copies, and then infusing them into the patient, injected nanoparticles could quickly attain the same result in the patient’s body. The gene therapy developed by Dr. Stephan and his team would allow doctors to immediately treat diagnosed ovarian cancer patients with an ‘off-the shelf’ reagent that can reprogram their immune system to selectively destroy cancer cells, without damaging healthy tissue. Thus, his research may provide the basis for prompt and effective treatment of ovarian cancer.