Yale Physician Receives Burroughs Award for Translational Research

Warren Shlomchik

Yale School of Medicine researcher Warren Shlomchik, M.D., who studies immune system responses in stem cell transplantation, is recipient of a Clinical Scientist Award in Translational Research by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF).

The $750,000 award supports established, independent physician-scientists who are dedicated to both mentoring physician-scientist trainees and to translational research, which is the two-way transfer between laboratory research and patient treatment.

“We hope these awards will lead to better understanding of the mechanisms of disease as well as new methods of diagnosing, treating, and preventing disease,” said BWF President Enriqueta Bond. “BWF is particularly interested in supporting physician-scientists who bring novel ideas and new approaches to translational research.”

Bond said the awards give the researchers the freedom and flexibility to explore scientific questions, apply the resulting knowledge at the bedside, and bring insights from the clinical setting back to the laboratory for further study.

Shlomchik, associate professor of medicine and immunobiology, studies graft-vs-host disease and graft-vs-leukemia in allogeneic stem cell transplantation. Graft-vs-host disease is when the body mounts a global attack on its own tissues, such as skin, liver, and intestines. Graft-vs-leukemia is a potent immune attack on the patient’s cancer.

Allogeneic stem cell transplantation can cure patients with common cancers of blood cells, including leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. It also can correct nonmalignant inherited and acquired diseases, in particular sickle cell anemia, thalassemias and aplastic anemia.

Currently, all patients receive some type of immunosuppression, which reduces graft-vs-host disease, but at the cost of decreased immune reconstitution and graft-vs-leukemia. When people are exposed to infections, a fraction of responding T-cells develop into memory T-cells that provide protection from repeat infections. Shlomchik and his colleagues discovered that these memory T-cells have a reduced capacity to induce graft-vs-host disease, but can transfer functional T-cell memory.

“This discovery suggests that memory T-cells could be safely transferred to improve immune reconstitution in transplant recipients,” Shlomchik said. “This award from BWF is to test this idea in the clinic and to develop strategies for creating memory T-cells that can specifically attack leukemia cells.”