Almost a 100 applications were evaluated for the LEO Foundation open competition grants in 2018. The LEO Foundation Board of Trustees approved 17 grants totalling DKK 47.8 million – ranging from DKK 0.1 to 5.8 million per grant.
Through our LEO Foundation grants and awards we want to make an impact and the aim of our philanthropic activities is to support the best dermatology research worldwide and make Denmark a global beacon for skin research.
Among the grantees in 2018 was Professor Rudolf Jaenisch from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a founding member of Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, US.
Professor Jaenisch received DKK 2.4 million to study human cancer in an experimental animal model.
A pioneer of transgenic science
Professor Jaenisch is a pioneer of transgenic science, and together with colleague Beatrice Mintz at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, US, he introduced the first transgenic mice to the world back in 1974.
A transgenic animal contains one or more genes that have been added from another animal. Today, mouse models are used in melanoma research to represent human skin cancer disease.
These models present two major challenges: 1) the human tumour cells, which are transplanted into the test mice, represent the end stage of the disease and 2) the immune system of the test mice is usually suppressed.
Thus, current research models fail to show the development of the disease as well as fail to display the ongoing interaction between melanoma cells and the immune system as the disease progresses.
Studying human cancer in an experimental animal model
To address the challenges with the current research models, the team led by Professor Jaenisch has set out to create a new experimental animal model that will reflect a more realistic set-up and make it possible to study initiation, progression and manifestation of human cancers such as melanoma.
The title of the LEO Foundation funded project is “In vivo model of human melanoma using a novel crest chimera system”. More specifically, Professor Jaenisch and his team plan to add a special type of human cell with cancer mutations to early mouse embryos, and these cells will eventually become an integral part of the skin.
This approach will generate a humanised mouse model with an intact immune system, enabling the researchers to gain a detailed understanding of how, over time, the cancer interacts with and ultimately evades the immune responses. Given a positive outcome, this innovative project could help to improve the effectiveness of current immunotherapies, test novel immunotherapies and identify novel targets in melanoma treatment.
Details about all LEO Foundation grants awarded in open competition can be found here