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The Allen Institute for Immunology Plans Long-term Goal of Mapping the Immune System

David Bai, PharmD
The Allen Institute for Immunology has partnered with several cancer institutions, including the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, with the primary goal of understanding the differences between a defective and healthy immune system to improve immune-based treatments.
The Allen Institute for Immunology has partnered with several cancer institutions, including the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, with the primary goal of understanding the differences between a defective and healthy immune system to improve immune-based treatments.

This new division of the Allen Institute is funded by the late Paul G. Allen, co-owner of Microsoft, who died this year from complications related to lymphoma. Teams comprising oncologists, investigators, and scientists will work together to learn more about the immune system and improve immunotherapy strategies.   

The road to today’s immunotherapies started with bone marrow transplantations, a curative therapy approach where immune cells from donor bone marrow exert anti-tumor responses. Since then, investigators engineered many types of immunotherapies that targeted blood cancers such as multiple myeloma. Although progress has been unrelenting, the mechanism in which the immune system works is relatively unknown, hindering the development of more effective immunotherapies.

The main goal of the Allen Institute for Immunology is to better understand the immune system. The immune system is a powerful weapon that kills outside pathogens as well as inside threats such as cancer. When the immune system becomes dysfunctional, autoimmune diseases appear and cancer flourishes. Teams will compare different types of disordered immune systems (eg, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple myeloma) with healthy immune systems and determine specific differences that can be targeted to improve treatments for cancers or other diseases.

“You can’t understand what’s really wrong with an immune system…unless you understand how that differs from the normal variations,” said Philip Greenberg, MD, head of immunology at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.     

The work to be done by the Allen Institute for Immunology stems from the tissue samples of patients from its external partners, including the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California at San Diego, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. These samples will provide invaluable clues on which patients’ disease will respond to treatment and ways in which immunotherapies can be made safer and more effective.

Mapping out the immune system is the descriptive foundation for the work being done at the Allen Institute for Immunology, but the overall target is improving patient care. Although the goals set forward are challenging, investigators ultimately hope to use this information to better match patients to treatments that will produce durable responses.

Reference

Richards S. Fred Hutch partners with new Allen Institute for Immunology [news release]. Seattle, WA: Hutch News; December 12, 2018. https://www.fredhutch.org/en/news/center-news/2018/12/fred-hutch-partner-allen-institute-immunology.html?rel=0" ?rel=0" .

 
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