MAYWOOD, Ill. (Oct. 30, 2014) – Michael I. Nishimura, PhD, who is developing therapies designed to turn patients’ own immune systems into potent weapons against cancer, has been named 2014 Senior Scientist of the Year at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
Katherine Radek, PhD, who is studying immune system function and wound healing, has been named Stritch School of Medicine’s 2014 Junior Scientist of the Year.
The awards were announced during Loyola’s 35th annual St. Albert’s Day, which celebrates the campuswide commitment to research.
The Scientist of the Year awards are based on scholarly productivity, service to the institution and community, professional society activities, research funding, mentoring and peer-review activities for both scientific journals and external sponsors of research funding.
Nishimura is a nationally recognized leader in the field of immunotherapeutics. He has developed a new treatment involving a type of white blood cell called a T lymphocyte (or simply T cell). One type of T cell, known as a killer T cell, attaches to and kills cells it recognizes as abnormal.
A clinical trial is under way at Loyola of Nishimura’s experimental immunotherapy for metastatic melanoma. A batch of T cells is removed from the patient and genetically modified in the lab. Two genes are inserted into the cells so that they recognize tumor cells as abnormal. The cells then are infused back into the patient. The genetically modified T cells, it's hoped, will recognize the tumor cells as abnormal, and then attack and kill them.
Nishimura is program director of Immunologic Therapeutics, associate director of the Oncology Institute and a professor in the Department of Surgery at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. He is principal investigator of a five-year, $16.3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute.
Nishimura, who lives in Crete, Ill., came to Loyola from the Medical University of South Carolina, where he was a professor in the Department of Surgery and scientific director of the Center for Cellular Therapy. Before that he was an associate professor at the University of Chicago and a staff scientist at the National Cancer Institute. He earned his PhD from the University of Maryland, which named him the 2010 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year in the Natural and Mathematical Sciences.
Radek is researching the mechanisms by which stress responses and nicotinic receptors influence the immune system in models of inflammatory skin disorders (such as atopic dermatitis and chronic wounds) and traumatic burn injury. Her lab is funded by the National Institutes of Health, a 3M Wound Healing Society Foundation Fellowship and the Dr. Ralph and Marian C. Falk Medical Research Trust.
Junior Scientist of the Year is the second major award Radek has won in 2014. In January, President Obama awarded Radek a prestigious Presidential Early Career Award. It’s the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their research careers. She was among 102 researchers to receive the honor.
Radek grew up in Oak Lawn and Chicago and went to Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School. She earned her doctorate in 2005 from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, in the laboratory of Luisa DiPietro, DDS, PhD. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in 2009 at the University of California at San Diego, in the laboratory of Richard Gallo, MD, PhD. She now is an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and a member of the university’s Burn & Shock Trauma Research Institute.
Radek serves as chair of the Wound Healing Society Website Committee and is a core member of the Wound Healing Society Program Committee. She is an ad-hoc reviewer for several journals.