Life Sciences
Providence Cancer Center

Interview with Jason Baird, Earle A. Chiles Research Institute at Providence Cancer Center, Portland, Oregon

Immunotherapy has become the most promising advancement in cancer treatment. One of the institutions leading the advancement of this type of research is the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute at Providence Cancer Center located in Portland Oregon. Xstrahl got a chance to sit down with Jason Baird, a Post Doc who is investigating STING pathway and immunotherapeutics in pre-clinical models.

1. What made you decide to pursue research and make it your career?
I was always curious about how things worked, I would take apart toasters and get into different things. I got into experimental science during my time in Nicaragua. I spent time testing pollution from local factories to lakes. That research inspired me to use science to fix the world, but I shifted more towards biotech. I joined a Steve Fiering’s great lab while in grad school at Dartmouth, whose focus was on epigenetics and Immunotherapy. I really loved what was happening with research, but I knew I wanted to work closer with patients.

2. What’s the most exciting thing about your current research?
My field (immunotherapy) is very exciting right now. The most exciting part is that it works. I think it will change the way we treat human disease. Much like how antibiotics changed the world, in the 40’s and 50’s.

This field has the opportunity to really improve survival. We had been overlooking the immune system to treat cancer, because we didn’t think an immune response against our own cells would be a good idea. We feared an autoimmune reaction, and didn’t fully understand the complexity of the immune system, and how it interacts with different cells. Eventually we realized the immune system does play an active role in cancer, and it is capable of differentiating dysfunctional human cells from normal cells. It provides cellular based surveillance that clears cancer, as fast as it does a virus. The idea is to kill the disease, but not yourself.

We are just at the beginning of researching immune modulators, and in the next 20 years immunotherapy will change the standard of care for patients.
In our work, though we have seen dramatic tumor control in our preclinical models combining STING ligands and radiation therapy, there are still things we need to figure out.

  • Timing: it is crucial to sync the immune response of irradiation with the inflammatory response driven by the STING ligands.

  • Proper dose / response: We have found that a strong inflammatory response can limit later immune responses. With immunotherapy, it may not always be appropriate to treat at the maximum tolerated dose.

3. You mentioned irradiation, how do you use irradiation in your preclinical models?
We use the SARRP which allows us to do combined immunity experiments. We can target a single tumor and look for an abscopal effect. Plus, It allows us to target orthotopic tumor models. For example, in our orthotopic liver tumor model we need to precisely target our tumor located in the liver, which is not visible without imaging. We use the CBCT, with contrast agents to identify the tumor. We deliver an arc treatment to the tumor, this minimizes damage to the normal tissue while allowing dose to accumulate in the tumor.

Before we had the SARRP, we used a clinical linear accelerator, but we were restricted to subcutaneous tumors in the hind limb, and we had to use bolus to get appropriate dose distribution to tumors in the smaller animals. The SARRP is specifically designed for small animals, so allows us to treat small animals the same way we would treat humans. It’s actually better for us than the clinical linear accelerator because we use CBCT guidance for every mouse and treatment. When using the clinical linear accelerator we were not able to use CBCT guidance.

4. What are your future research plans?
We want to assess the role of macrophages with our STING compound and radiation.

5. What is your favorite conference to attend? Why?
I like SITC (Society of Immunotherapy for Cancer). There’s a good balance between clinical, scientific, and corporate groups. It’s very specific to my research interest. It’s the place you see new data being presented, so that’s very exciting.

Jason Baird Poster

Jason’s Poster at SITC 2015 in Washington DC

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