Tumor Immunologist José R. Conejo-Garcia Joins The Wistar Institute

Tumor Immunologist José R. Conejo-Garcia Joins The Wistar Institute

September 12, 2010

(PHILADELPHIA – September 13, 2010) – The Wistar Institute has appointed ovarian cancer researcher José R. Conejo-Garcia, M.D., Ph.D., as associate professor in the Institute’s Immunology Program. Conejo-Garcia comes to Wistar from Dartmouth Medical School.

Conejo-Garcia’s laboratory program explores an innovative approach to fighting ovarian cancer by exploiting the tumor’s reliance on its “microenvironment,” the collection of neighboring, healthy cells that nourish the tumor and enable it to thrive. In particular, he has developed a “Trojan Horse” method that reprograms white blood cells within the microenvironment – which otherwise have the effect of preventing the spontaneous anti-tumor activity of the immune system – so that they activate immune cells to attack the ovarian tumor.

“Dr. Conejo-Garcia has established himself as an important thinker in the study of the tumor microenvironment, an emerging field of cancer biology that is of particular interest to our scientists,” said Wistar President and CEO Russel E. Kaufman, M.D. “His expertise bridges our Immunology and Molecular and Cellular Oncogenesis programs and will strengthen collaborations across The Wistar Institute Cancer Center.”

Born and educated in Spain, Conejo-Garcia received his medical degree from the University of Zaragoza in 1990. After completing a residency in Clinical Chemistry at the University Hospital of Guadalajara, he began to work toward a Ph.D. in Molecular Oncology at the University of Alcala. In 1998, Conejo-Garcia began post-doctoral work at the University of Bern in Switzerland, where he delved deeper into the study of tumor biology.

After two years working in a biotechnological company in Germany, Conejo-Garcia took a second post-doctoral fellowship in 2001, this time at the University of Pennsylvania, where he applied his interest in tumor biology to the study of ovarian cancer. It was then he began to focus on the tumor microenvironment, a theme that he carried with him to Dartmouth, where he became an assistant professor in 2005.

Conejo-Garcia’s current research explores the biology of a subset of immune cells known as dendritic cells, which are co-opted by ovarian tumors to protect them from the immune system as a whole, rather than boosting protective immune responses. His laboratory has discovered that eliminating these immune cells from the tumor microenvironment kills ovarian tumor cells and may slow aggressive forms of the cancer.

These dendritic cells may also form the basis of a drug delivery system, a means of sneaking cancer-killing particles into ovarian tumors. This Trojan Horse approach, Conejo-Garcia says, may lead to better complementary or individual therapies to treat ovarian cancer, a disease that kills about 15,000 American women each year.

The Wistar Institute is an international leader in biomedical research with special expertise in cancer research and vaccine development. Founded in 1892 as the first independent nonprofit biomedical research institute in the country, Wistar has long held the prestigious Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute. The Institute works actively to ensure that research advances move from the laboratory to the clinic as quickly as possible. The Wistar Institute: Today’s Discoveries – Tomorrow’s Cures. On the Web at www.wistar.org.

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