Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

UM/Sylvester Hires Top Immunology Researcher from Duke

09.11.2006

Eli Gilboa, Ph.D., a national leader in translating promising immune therapies from the laboratory into patient care – particularly against cancer and HIV/AIDS – has joined the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. As a professor with dual appointments in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and in the Division of Hematology Oncology at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Gilboa will develop an Interdisciplinary Immunotherapy Institute that will serve patients across the UM Miller School.

“Our basic scientists are leaders in discovery research, unlocking the mysteries of disease in a lab or within the cell,” said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., senior vice president for medical affairs and dean of the UM Miller School. “But if the next step of this research never takes place the discovery is just a historic exercise. Dr. Gilboa will accelerate this mission to translate laboratory promise into clinical treatments and cures.”

Since 1993 Dr. Gilboa has held dual appointments in the Departments of Surgery and Immunology at Duke University. He previously worked at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and at Princeton University. He is a pioneer in gene therapy, having developed the first generation of retroviral vectors used in the first human trials. This therapy uses viruses as vehicles to deliver treatment to diseased cells. He has continued to lead novel research into gene therapy in oncology and HIV/AIDS and he has been an innovator in RNA-based therapeutics, using the activity of proteins within the cell to target disease. He was also among the first researchers to show the potential of modified tumor cells as cancer vaccines. Dr. Gilboa is currently best known for using RNA-modified dendritic cells, a form of cell therapy, to stimulate the immune system in cancer patients.

Gilboa studied in Israel and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, holds six patents and has served on five advisory boards. He helped established a state-of-the-art clinical trial program in urological cancers at Duke and is highly committed to advancing therapies that show promise in animal models into human testing.

At the UM Miller School, Dr. Gilboa will continue to work on multiple programs. “The reason I’m excited about this move is that the success of initiatives like this is dependent on strategic support from the cancer center and the medical center,” said Gilboa. “Without that you go nowhere. I will have that support.”

“Dr. Gilboa has made important contributions to immunology research, but what is truly unique about him is his passion for putting his own discoveries together with those of others to develop new therapeutic approaches to cancer and other serious diseases,” said W. Jarrard Goodwin, M.D., F.A.C.S., director of the UM/Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. “The focus of his own work is immunotherapy, but his interests go beyond traditional immunotherapy and his real goal is helping people.” Gilboa will lead UM/Sylvester’s Multidisciplinary Tumor Immunology Research Program but will also work closely with leaders at the Diabetes Research Institute and UM’s HIV/AIDS program.

“Immunology has come a long way in the last 20 years, to the point where we really understand a number of molecular details,” said Eckhard Podack, M.D., chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. “Immunology is going to make a difference in medicine, not only in cancer but also in infectious diseases, transplantation immunology and autoimmunity. Dr. Gilboa has a very broad interest in immunological approaches, vaccine approaches, in trying to treat disease.” Gilboa has shown a unique ability to advance and apply laboratory discoveries to patient care. “He complements very well what I do and what other people do in the department, but he has a different approach,” said Podack, who was instrumental in recruiting Gilboa to UM. “It’s not duplication, it is complementation.”

As director of the Interdisciplinary Immunotherapy Institute, Gilboa will be able to shape immunological research in multiple ways. He will help recruit top immunologists to UM and will oversee and coordinate research in various disciplines. The Institute will be composed of four largely autonomous programs focusing on cancer, infectious diseases, autoimmunity and transplantation. In addition to yielding therapies in each of those disciplines, the Institute will encourage synergism and cross-fertilization across disciplines. When something increases the ability of the immune system in one illness, that knowledge can often be applied to another disease. An important mission of the Institute will be to disseminate findings and novel clinical approaches across the UM medical campus and beyond. “There will be extensive interactions among the various components of the Institute because they share similar approaches, methodologies and clinical challenges,” said Gilboa, who will start at the Miller School in September.

Dr. Gilboa has authored or co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and books on a variety of topics in gene therapy, tumor immunology and infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. He approaches immune therapy in cancer from several fronts, working to boost the body’s immune response against the tumor, but also to overcome the propensity of tumors to suppress the immune system. He has overseen an exceptional expansion of the application of immunology to cancer therapy at Duke but expects even greater things at UM. “There are a few centers doing work like this, including Duke, but it is a modest effort,” Gilboa said, “not on the scale under way at UM.”

“Eli Gilboa, in a sense, fulfills my dream for this department, which is to bring immunology into disease application,” said Podack. “I’m very happy about this.”

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