The Rappaport Award has been of immeasurable support in allowing Dr. Fulci’s research and career to move forward. Her research focuses on increasing efficacy of oncolytic virotherapy for brain tumors through transient suppression of the host’s innate antiviral defense responses. Oncolytic virotherapy is performed with viruses that selectively replicate in and kill tumor cells. Thus, these viruses can generate a progeny that spreads through the tumor while sparing the surrounding normal tissue. This is an excellent means to deliver an anti-tumor agent to isolated malignant cells that infiltrate the normal brain and that cause rapid re-occurrence of the cancer after standard treatments. Dr. Fulci is currently establishing a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique that allows monitoring in brain tumor patients the presence of antiviral immune responses, the intratumoral spread of the virus and the tumor response to the treatment throughout the therapy.
“My research focuses on increasing efficacy of oncolytic virotherapy for brain tumors. I started working in this field as a research fellow in Dr. Chiocca’s laboratory. My goal was to understand the mechanisms through which cyclophosphamide enhances intratumoral viral spread and consequent survival of rodents with established gliomas. Through this work I realized that oncolytic viruses elicit a strong innate immune response early after their intratumoral injection. This response is detrimental for viral replication, spread and persistence in brain tumors. Thus, my major goal now is to understand the mechanisms that regulate this innate immune response to identify novel targets for therapeutic intervention. To improve the efficacy of this therapeutic strategy I am also in the process of establishing a new MRI technology that can detect virus replication, intratumoral infiltration of innate immune cells and tumor response during one MRI imaging session. This will strongly increase our diagnostic capacities of such treatment. Finally, I am testing the efficacy of oncolytic virotherapy when performed in combination with FDA-approved anti-angiogenic and immuno-suppressive drugs.”
In summary, Dr. Fulci is establishing a state-of-the-art diagnostic tool that can evaluate in a quantitative and non-invasive fashion all three parameters and therefore provide fundamental information about the progress of the treatment. Through the Rappaport Family Fund, Dr. Fulci has received the support needed to obtain preliminary data for a National Institutes of Health R21 grant application that was recently awarded. This grant established her as an independent researcher and allows her to pursue her scientific interests. Moreover, her results were recently accepted for a presentation at an international meeting on gene therapy.