Swim Across America funds research on bladder cancer and immunotherapy

June 16, 2021  //  FOUND IN: News
Rogel Cancer Center team members at a Swim Across America event pre-COVID-19.

Bladder cancer was one of the first cancer types to benefit from immunotherapy. But only about one in four patients see their tumors respond to the treatment.

Phillip Palmbos, M.D., Ph.D., hopes to understand why. A $50,000 grant from the 2020 Swim Across America – Motor City Mile will allow him to explore this.

“The goal of this project is to look at whether we can turn those non-responder tumors into responders. Why are some cancers resistant to immunotherapy?” said Palmbos, assistant professor of hematology/oncology at Michigan Medicine.

Swim Across America is an open-water swim with events held across the country.

This year’s Motor City Mile event is July 9. For the third time, it will support research at the Rogel Cancer Center. From the 2019 event, Kyoung Eun Lee, Ph.D., received a grant to advance her research in pancreatic cancer.

This year, Palmbos’ award will allow him to follow an unexpected string that his previous work revealed. Using a mouse model he developed, Palmbos discovered a gene called TRIM29 drives bladder cancer development. It also appears to regulate the immune microenvironment in those tumors.

“It’s not what we started out to look at, but maybe it’s one of the features that makes immunotherapy ineffective. With this award, we’ll seek to understand the mechanisms by which TRIM29 can cause resistance and then also develop ways to sensitize these tumors to immunotherapy,” Palmbos said.

This is a new direction for his lab, and more data is needed to support major funding from the National Institutes of Health or other agencies.

“Swim Across America funding will allow us to develop this new direction, which may lead to future grants or clinical trials. There’s a possibility that this could have a real impact for patients with bladder cancer,” he said.

The Swim Across America – Motor City Mile will be held at the Belle Isle Beach House in Detroit, and will include swims of 0.5, 1 and 2 miles. There’s also a virtual option that allows non-swimmers to log any activities.

All participants are required to raise money; 100% of proceeds go to the Rogel Cancer Center.

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