University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Research Program; Immuno-oncology Research Program; Healthy Immune System Research Program

Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is a term for two different autoimmune conditions, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, where the patient’s immune system attacks their own healthy digestive system, causing chronic inflammation that leads to pain, diarrhea and other complications, including an increased risk for colon cancer. Treatments exist for IBD but they don’t always work well, and can themselves have unpleasant side effects.

The University of Pennsylvania team will work with the Allen Institute for Immunology to better understand how patients’ immune systems change when the treatment is keeping their disease in check, as compared to those patients that see no relief or even disease progression on treatment. Understanding the immune details of why IBD treatments work or don’t work will help the researchers develop better, more targeted treatments that could work for more people — potentially with fewer side effects.

Wherry and his team will also study the healthy immune system in children, a complementary research effort to the BRI-led project to understand the normal baseline of immune health in children.

They will also study patients with the skin cancer melanoma who are being treated with a form of immunotherapy known as a checkpoint blockade, a recently developed type of therapy that blocks a single immune molecule on cancer cells to allow the body’s natural immune cells to recognize and eliminate the cancer. This effort will focus on the role these therapies have on the overall immune system.

E. John Wherry, Ph.D.

University of Pennsylvania

Dr. E. John Wherry is the Barbara and Richard Schiffrin President’s Distinguished Professor, Chair of the Department of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics in the Perelman School of Medicine and Director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.  Dr. Wherry received his Ph.D. at Thomas Jefferson University in 2000 then did postdoctoral research at Emory University with Dr. Rafi Ahmed from 2000-2004.  He was appointed Assistant Professor in 2005 in the Immunology Program at The Wistar Institute and then joined the Department of Microbiology in the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in 2010.  He became the Director of the Institute for Immunology in 2012 and Chair of the Department of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics in 2018.  Dr. Wherry has received numerous distinctions for his consistent and significant contributions to infectious disease and cancer research.  He has over 190 publications in top international journals. His research has focused on pioneering work to define the cellular and molecular nature of Immune Exhaustion — or failure of normal immune system function — in chronic infection and cancer.  His work helped identify the role of the “checkpoint” molecule PD-1 and the ability to block this pathway and reinvigorate the immune function from exhausted T cells. He also has identified novel combinations of immune treatments including one of the first to demonstrate the efficacy of co-inhibitory receptor blockade that may be future therapeutics for cancer and infections.  His laboratory has also been a pioneer in using transcriptomics, high dimensional cytometry, and systems immunology approaches to study immune oncology, human vaccine responses and human infectious disease.  Ongoing work in his laboratory focuses on epigenetics of exhausted T cells and other immune cells, systems immunology approaches, vaccine responses and respiratory infections.