Michael A. Caligiuri, MD

Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF) Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) member Michael Caligiuri, MD is one of only four researchers nationwide to receive the prestigious MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) Award by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 2010. These awards, given to less than five percent of National Institutes of Health funded investigators, recognize researchers who have demonstrated superior competence and outstanding productivity. Dr. Caligiuri was honored for his 20 years of work on harnessing the immune system, most specifically on lymphocytes called natural killer (NK) cells and a molecule known as interleukin-15 (IL-15), to treat cancer.

The first investigator to ever be presented with this award at his institution, The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dr. Caligiuri will receive up to 10 years of support from the NCI to continue his research and encourage future success. "I'm incredibly humbled to receive this award," Dr. Caligiuri said. "I hope to accomplish new insights into NK lymphoma and leukemia."

Prior research led Dr. Caligiuri to conclude that treatment of follicular lymphoma using rituximab alone versus using the signaling protein, known more generally as a cytokine, interleukin-2 (IL-2), yields equivalent results. Next, he will test the effectiveness of using both IL-15 and rituximab together.

Another major project Dr. Caligiuri and his lab have undertaken is the development of a vaccine for organ transplant patients at risk for developing post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD). PTLD is an often fatal type of lymphoma which presents in immune-compromised patients after a major organ transplant and is related to complications with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).

"We discovered what T-cells see when they effectively cure EBV-positive post transplant lymphoma, and by making that discovery we can make a vaccine that would prevent this from occurring," he said. "We would give the vaccine to any patient waiting for a transplant, when they are immune competent. Currently, we are looking at several potential partners to develop the vaccine for Phase I clinical trials."

Dr. Caligiuri became interested in lymphoma as an oncology fellow at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the mid-1980s. An Italian speaker, he was called to assist with an Italian woman who was found to have lymphoma at the time she was giving birth. After giving birth, she was one of the first patients to ever be treated with an autologous bone marrow transplant at the time of original diagnosis. Captivated by this experience, Dr. Caligiuri decided to focus on blood cancers, and developed a strong interest in cases complicated by pregnancy. "I became intrigued with what was then thought to be a fatal disease," he said.

With his experience serving on LRF's SAB, Dr. Caligiuri has had the opportunity to review grant applications and see one of the members of his own lab, Robert Baiocchi, MD, PhD, earn a Mantle Cell Lymphoma Research Initiative Award in 2007. "I'm thrilled and honored to be involved in the LRF SAB," Dr. Caligiuri said. "It is organizations like these that are going to help us and the next generation of scientists and physicians make discoveries and move forward. It is exciting to see the ideas that young people have and it gives me great satisfaction to see them get funded by LRF."

In addition to being an elected member of the American Association for Clinical Investigation and the American Association of Physicians, and an elected Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dr. Caligiuri has authored more than 225 original scientific publications, holds numerous patents and has trained more than 100 students in his laboratory. In 2009, Dr. Caligiuri began serving a two-year term as president of the Association for American Cancer Institutes. He is also the chair of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Publications Committee, an associate editor of the journal Blood, and he sits on the editorial boards of Clinical Cancer Research and Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.

When asked for the most important piece of advice he would give to a newly diagnosed lymphoma patient, Dr. Caligiuri recommends doing thorough research on treatment options and seeking out an expert facility. "Seek a second opinion from a qualified lymphoma expert at an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center before undergoing any treatment," he said.

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