Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program Round 11 - 2022

Project Investigators:

Jianghong Rao, Radiology
Craig Levin, Radiology
Ronald Levy, Medicine (Oncology)


Immunotherapy has revolutionized medical oncology. The use of immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) has demonstrated revolutionary results in cancer treatment but only a portion of patients can achieve complete disease remission. The response patterns of ICI therapy are often different from that of chemotherapy or radiation. For example, patients receiving ICI treatment often experience “pseudoprogression”—the apparent tumor-size increase likely caused by immune cell infiltration. Current diagnostic imaging based on the tumor size measurement alone is not adequate to assess initial response to immunotherapy and disease evolution. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the development of new non-invasive imaging assays that can tell whether a patient’s cancer responds to the immune treatment at an earlier timepoint than that allowed by the current method. A commonly explored approach to imaging immune response uses radiolabeled antibodies targeting membrane associated markers, but this single biomarker imaging strategy has not yet demonstrated reliable prediction of treatment response. In this project, a team of investigators will bring expertise in chemistry, physics, engineering, molecular imaging, and cancer immunology to develop a novel non-invasive multiparametric imaging assay that can sensitively detect two biomarkers in the tumor that responds to the immune therapy. This new imaging assay will be evaluated in a preclinical mouse model of colorectal cancer and the results will pave the way to future clinical translation for more efficacious selection and accurate monitoring of cancer immunotherapy.