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Cancer Stem Cell Biology and Therapy Center of Economic Excellence Names International Expert as First Endowed Chair

April 29, 2010

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States and the third leading cause of cancer deaths, with 49,920 deaths in 2009. While morbidity rates have declined due to early detection, colon cancer remains a deadly threat to men and women. The recruitment of as the first endowed chair in the Health Sciences South Carolina-supported SmartState Center in Cancer Stem Cell Biology and Therapy is good news for South Carolina. An international expert in tumor immunology and oncology, Li’s research suggests there is potential to develop a vaccine against colon cancer.

Li made international headlines in October 2009 when a report of his studies was published in Stem Cells.The study revealed the potential for human stem cells to provide a vaccination against colon cancer. Speaking about his discovery, Li said, “This finding potentially opens up a new paradigm for cancer vaccine research. Cancer and stem cells share many molecular and biological features. By immunizing the host with stem cells, we are able to fool the immune system to believe that cancer cells are present and thus to initiate a tumor-combating immune program. Although we have only tested the protection against colon cancer, we believe that stem cells might be useful for generating an immune response against a broad spectrum of cancers, thus serving as a universal cancer vaccine.”

The SmartSTate Center for Cancer Stem Cell Biology and Therapy is based at the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in South Carolina. Research conducted at the Center seeks to improve cancer outcomes by developing new therapeutic options for killing cancer stem cells, including stem cell replacement. The Center’s research-focus is twofold: first, identify ways to use stem cells found in bone marrow or adult organs as treatment targets for cancer therapy; second, develop and market the bioengineering aspects of stem cell collection and utilization for more functional, adaptable clinical applications. Li will hold his position at MUSC. A second endowed chair will be recruited to join him.

Li earned a medical degree in China, followed by a PhD in Immunology from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. He completed his residency in Medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and a fellowship in Hematology and Oncology at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA. He joins MUSC from the University of Connecticut Health Center.

Commenting on Li’s appointment, HSSC President and CEO Jay Moskowitz said, “We are fortunate and honored to have recruited a cancer researcher of Dr. Li’s stature to South Carolina. He, like the other endowed chairs supported by Health Sciences South Carolina and part of the SmartState Program, is a research supersta’ capable to life-altering discoveries. Dr. Li’s research is a positive step forward for South Carolina and the world at large.”

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