The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has recently named Arnold S. Han, MD, PhD, as a 2020 recipient of its Rachleff Innovation Award. The prize goes to early career scientists—12 recipients to receive $3.8 million in total funding—whose research projects have the potential to significantly impact the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. 

Dr. Arnold Han is investigating the role of the immune system’s T cells in human colorectal cancer, which has limited treatment success with immunotherapy.

Dr. Han, a member of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) and a gastroenterologist at  NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, focuses on immunotherapy, a revolutionary type of cancer treatment that uses elements of the body’s immune system to fight cancer. On the cutting edge of cancer therapy, immunotherapy and its benefits in treating cancer are being explored through several programs and clinical trials at the HICCC.

While immunotherapy has shown promise as a novel therapeutic, to date, it has only been shown effective in a subset of cancers in a small group of patients. With this grant, Dr. Han is investigating the role of the immune system’s T cells in human colorectal cancer, which so far has had limited treatment success with immunotherapy. His proposed research explores a strategy to identify and test T cells within tumors that are capable of tumor recognition. Therapies could potentially be directed at these cells, or their receptors could be utilized in precision therapies, in order to help jump-start a patient’s immune system to fight cancer.

“I’m very grateful for Damon Runyon’s generous support of this work,” says Dr. Han, who is the Robert F. Loeb Assistant Professor of Medicine and Microbiology and Immunology at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “This award allows me the freedom to pursue this ambitious project.”

The Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award recipients are selected through a highly competitive and rigorous process by a scientific committee comprised of leading cancer researchers. Only those scientists with a clear vision and passion for curing cancer are selected to receive the prestigious award.

-Melanie A. Farmer