April 7, 2017
Congratulations to Dr. James Moon, whose laboratory receives $6M in NIH awards

This news item was originally posted in Novermber 2016. It was updated on April 7, 2017. 

The laboratory of James Moon, PhD, John Gideon Searle Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, has been awarded three National Institute of Health (NIH) R01 awards.

Dr. Moon has received a $2.3 million NIH R01 award from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for a project entitled “Elicitation of mucosal immune responses against HIV.” Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) primarily enters the host and initiates infection through mucosal tissues. Therefore, a vaccination strategy that can elicit adaptive immune responses in mucosal tissues is urgently needed. There is currently no approved adjuvant that can achieve robust levels of both T-cell and antibody responses in mucosal tissues, highlighting the critical need for an alternative, effective, and safe strategy for mucosal vaccination.

“We are thrilled to commence our work on this major global challenge,” says Dr. Moon. “Our long-term goal is to develop a vaccine delivery system that can induce protective immunity against HIV-1.” To that end, the Moon laboratory has developed new nano-vaccines that can achieve strong cellular and humoral immune responses. “Initial pre-clinical studies performed with these nano-vaccines have shown great potential for triggering adaptive immune responses against multiple infectious pathogens, including Ebola virus,” continues Dr. Moon. “We will design a series of HIV-1 vaccines and investigate their impact on immune responses directed against HIV-1. These studies will accelerate HIV-1 vaccine development.”

The Moon Laboratory was selected for a separate NIH R01 award on a project entitled, “Tuning biomaterials-immune cell interactions for treatment of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).” The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) will provide $1.7 million for this joint project between Dr. Moon and Drs. Maria Castro and Pedro Lowenstein in the Department of Neurosurgery, University of Michigan Medical School.

Despite recent advances in surgery, chemo- and radiation-therapy, GBM patients have a grim prognosis with less than 10% of patients surviving more than five years. Consequently, there is a critical need for an alternative and effective strategy that can achieve robust anti-tumor efficacy against GBM.

To tackle this major medical challenge, Drs. Moon, Castro, and Lowenstein have obtained pilot research awards from the Biointerfaces Institute (BI) and the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMCCC) and began their collaboration to develop new synthetic materials that can train leukocytes to recognize GBM cells as “foreign” cells and eventually eliminate them, which are the major goals of their R01 award.

“Working together with Dr. Moon and Dr. Lowenstein on this project, funded initially by pilot grants from BI and UMCCC, has been a very rewarding and productive enterprise," says Dr. Castro. "It has enabled us to generate the data that led to this RO1 award, and most importantly, the work proposed may provide novel and effective immunotherapeutic approaches for this devastating brain cancer.” 

The third NIH R01 award is on a project entitled, “Engineering Nanomaterials to Prime Immunity.” The National Cancer Institute (NCI) will provide $2 million to the Moon laboratory to study how vaccine components are transported through tissues and interstitial space and how they interface with the immune system. The researchers aim to utilize the fundamental knowledge gained from the basic studies to design the next generation cancer immunotherapy against multiple types of cancer.

“We anticipate that these separate yet complementary studies will lead to new design principles for biomaterials that can elicit robust anti-tumor immune responses, delay tumor progression, and prevent tumor recurrence,” notes Dr. Moon. “We are looking forward to translating our initial results to the next level and working toward a new form of immunotherapy for cancer patients.”

Dr. Moon holds a joint appointment in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Department of Biomedical Engineering. He is also a member of the Biointerfaces Institute and UMCCC at University of Michigan. His translational research program aims to develop novel biotechnologies for improving vaccines and immunotherapies.