Dr. Glen Barber receives international recognition for the importance of his discoveries
By Diana Gonzalez
Photography by Donna Victor
t was 2008 when a British researcher working out of the Papanicolaou Building at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine made a monumental scientific discovery. Glen N. Barber, Ph.D., and his team discovered STING — a pivotal pathway controlling immune responses that plays a critically important role in stimulating anti-tumor T-cell activity.
Dr. Barber, professor and chair of the Miller School’s Department of Cell Biology and a Sylvester member, is now being recognized by the Cancer Research Institute (CRI). He and four other internationally renowned scientists were the recipients of the 2020 William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Basic and Tumor Immunology. The award is named in honor of Dr. William B. Coley, known as the “Father of Cancer Immunotherapy.”
New ways to boost anti-cancer activity
Dr. Barber’s research showed that laboratory mice generated without STING didn’t mount an effective immune response toward cancer cells. His work has developed into finding new ways to stimulate this important innate immune pathway to boost anti-cancer activity.
“We are now writing Phase I clinical trials with our own STING agonists we’ve developed with the hope of enhancing immune responses to cancers such as leukemia,” Dr. Barber said. He anticipates starting those trials, funded by the National Institutes of Health, at Sylvester in early 2021.
The Coley Award is given to one or more scientists for seminal discoveries in the fields of basic immunology and tumor immunology whose work has deepened our understanding of the immune system’s response to cancer and advanced the development of effective cancer immunotherapies.
Nobel Laureate James P. Allison, Ph.D., who presented the Zubrod Memorial Lecture at Sylvester in 2018, presented the award during the CRI’s annual gala, Innovators in Science and Philanthropy. The gala was held virtually for the first time on September 29.
“This is a very prestigious award, given by such an eminent figure and Nobel Prize winner,” Dr. Barber said. “It’s an honor to be recognized internationally by your peers for the significance of your work.”