Owen N. Witte

The UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center’s founding director, Dr. Owen Witte, has received a $1 million 2017 Challenge Award from the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

With this funding, Witte plans to develop a novel technology that could engineer patient-specific immune cells called T cells to recognize and eradicate neuroendocrine prostate cancer cells.

Neuroendocrine prostate cancer is a type of castration-resistant prostate cancer that is particularly lethal.

“New, targeted therapies are needed to combat neuroendocrine prostate cancer, which grows and metastasizes quickly and is often fatal in less than a year,” said Witte, a university professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics.

Witte and the research team will modify human T cells by adding an engineered molecule called a chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR. The CAR, which is a two-part receptor that recognizes an antigen, will be designed to help T cells identify a specific antigen expressed by neuroendocrine prostate cancer cells, allowing the T cells to more efficiently target the cancer. The researchers will then use the CAR-T cells in cell and mouse models of neuroendocrine prostate cancer to see if the specialized T cells can reduce or eliminate the cancer.

If successful, this approach could inform the development of a targeted CAR-T immunotherapy for neuroendocrine prostate cancer. Witte hopes this therapy could one day be used in men with the deadly disease.

An announcement released by the Prostate Cancer Foundation stated that eight new teams were awarded $1 M each to conduct collaborative research that holds the potential to accelerate innovative treatments for advanced prostate cancer and that the 2017 Challenge Award winners “were selected from a pool of 92 international applications following a rigorous peer review process that assessed each project’s scientific merit and potential impact to patients.”

Witte will conduct the research in collaboration with a multidisciplinary research team that includes Dr. John Lee, a clinical instructor in the Division of Hematology Oncology at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and Dr. Stephen Forman and Dr. Saul Priceman from City of Hope. The team provides a broad range of expertise in cancer biology, cancer immunology, models of prostate cancer, CAR engineering and evaluation of CAR-T immunotherapy.

Media Contact: 

Mirabai Vogt-James
(310) 983-1163

High Res Images: