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Grateful patient, spouse wife pledge support for immunotherapy research

Washington University medical oncologist Russell Pachynski, MD, and his patient Kerry Preete attend a St. Louis Blues game... Washington University medical oncologist Russell Pachynski, MD, and his patient Kerry Preete attend a St. Louis Blues game together.

In 2016 while receiving treatment for bladder cancer at Siteman Cancer Center, Kerry Preete frequently engaged in conversations with his Washington University medical oncologist, Russell Pachynski, MD.  Preete came to admire Pachynski not only as an attending physician but also as a dedicated cancer researcher.

“I experienced firsthand Dr. Pachynski’s patience and willingness to share and explain information to me. Learning that he also was conducting cutting-edge cancer research was impressive,” Preete said.

Although Preete understood just a “wee bit” of the science involved in Pachynski’s research, he found it intriguing. “It made me think about how research had resulted in new technology and the advanced treatment I was benefiting from. After some discussion, my wife, Bonnie, and I decided we wanted to see how we could help others in my situation. If Dr. Pachynski could achieve a breakthrough in his research with our support, that would be our way of giving back.”

The Preetes established a three-year, $500,000 cancer research fund that Pachynski could allocate at his discretion. Possible uses included launching new research projects and expanding existing ones, providing support for additional lab personnel, and purchasing research supplies and equipment.

“We didn’t put any limitations on our donation,” Kerry Preete said. “Whatever Dr. Pachynski felt would keep his lab going in order to do the type of research needed to get to the next milestone, that was fine with us.”

The research he found intriguing involves developing new approaches to fighting prostate cancer by modulating the immune response — controlling how the body recognizes and defends itself against harmful agents such as bacteria and viruses. A major focus for Pachynski’s lab is a leukocyte chemoattractant protein called chemerin, which helps direct immune cell movements around the body. In his initial research as an oncology fellow at Stanford University, Pachynski was the first to show that prostate and other cancers turn off chemerin and, compared to normal tissues, reduce secretion of the protein. At his Siteman/Washington University lab, Pachynski and his colleagues discovered that when they engineered the prostate cancer cells to start making chemerin again, they were able to not only move key immune cells into the tumor but also favorably alter the gene expression profile within the tumor, thus significantly suppressing its growth.

“Based on this work, two significant developments occurred,” Pachynski said. “First, we secured a patent for developing a tumor-targeted version of chemerin from the Washington University Office of Technology Management.”

The patent was intentionally written to not be specific to prostate cancer. Pachynski hopes to use his lab’s approach to modulating immune response for several other types of cancer, such as breast cancer, melanoma and pancreatic cancer.

“Since the tumor-targeted version of chemerin is not cancer-specific, it’s a case of getting the right immune cells into the tumor so they can attack it,” he said. “We’ve already shown that modulating the chemerin expression in the tumor can suppress melanoma and breast cancer in mouse models.”

He added: “We’re still relatively early in the development, but our preclinical data suggests a tumor-targeted chemerin could be effective not only as a single drug, but also by working together with existing immunotherapies to improve their ability to shrink tumors.”

The second major development was a four-year Research and Cancer Development Grant awarded to Pachynski’s lab by the American Cancer Society. As the Preetes’ support had done, the grant will enable Pachynski to expand his lab and accelerate the pace of the chemerin research.

“This is an exciting time for us in our research endeavors, and it was the Preetes’ generous donation that helped us get to this point,” Pachynski said.

These developments went beyond the impact the couple envisioned their donation making. “We were thrilled to make this commitment to Dr. Pachynski and delighted to see what it has led to in terms of obtaining the patent and additional funding,” Preete said.

He notes that cancer has impacted the lives of everyone he knows, whether through their own diagnosis or those of their relatives and friends. He feels it makes sense to support research at a leading institution such as Siteman Cancer Center.

“From my experience, donating to cancer research at Siteman is an investment with a high likelihood of success,” he said.


Learn more about Siteman’s community fundraising opportunities by emailing [email protected] or by calling 314-935-2993.

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