MARQUETTE -- Northern Michigan University students and faculty will do cutting-edge cancer research with support from a Seattle biotechnology company. NMU biology professor Rob Winn will spend the summer working with scientists at Dendreon Corporation to see how they prepare and test an antigen - or marker - produced on the surface of breast and colon cancer cells.

Dendreon's goal is to produce vaccines that modify antigens so that the human immune system recognizes them and activates a robust response that will rid the body of them. Targeting only cancerous cells is favorable to chemotherapy or radiation treatments, which often result in undesirable side effects.

"Things are progressing so quickly in biotechnology that companies can't invest time and resources in research that might not turn out to be profitable; it doesn't make fiscal sense to take a risk," Winn said. "In academia, we can ask questions to find answers that don't necessarily have a monetary goal.

"The payoff for us is that our students and faculty will be able to do significant research usually reserved for places like Johns Hopkins. If we can make a better antigen that gets a bigger response from the immune system on top of that, it's a plus for Dendreon. If we can't, the company isn't out that much financially and we still have the prestige of being involved, which is a recruiting tool. Either way, both parties benefit."

The collaboration between the university and Dendreon has been in the works for about a year. The company's senior vice president for corporate affairs, T. Dennis George, is a Northern alumnus. Two NMU students have been accepted for paid internships in Seattle this summer. They will work separately from Winn, who is the first faculty intern.

After Winn becomes skilled in Dendreon's preparation and testing procedures, he will supervise NMU research beginning this fall. The ongoing, interdisciplinary effort will involve biology, chemistry and clinical laboratory sciences.

"We'll begin with about 10 undergraduate and graduate students, but there are even more eager to take part in this, so manpower isn't a problem," he added. "With the Seaborg Science Complex, we also have the facilities. I think this combination made us attractive to Dendreon. We are very fortunate to have this relationship with them."

Prepared By
Kristi Evans
News Director