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Research Project

Autoimmunity and Cancer Immunotherapy

Autoimmunity Cancer Immunotherapy

Can we predict and prevent autoimmune disease after immunotherapy?


Checkpoint inhibitors changed the face of cancer by extending the lives of many patients who had few choices. Yet some patients treated with this immunotherapy go on to develop autoimmune disorders that cause rashes, diarrhea, or in rare cases, insulin-dependent diabetes.

To understand why this happens, the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy launched a unique set of research projects across the country with leading nonprofits and university partners. The studies will focus on autoimmune diseases of the endocrine system such as insulin-dependent diabetes, thyroiditis and hypophysitis, which affects the pituitary gland.

What We’re Doing

Following checkpoint inhibitor treatment for cancer, roughly 1% of patients will develop an insulin-dependent diabetes similar to type 1 diabetes. Nobody knows how or why.

To help reveal the causes behind this phenomenon, the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy teamed up with two leaders in diabetes research: JDRF and The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

The three groups are co-funding $10 million in autoimmunity research to better understand, predict and prevent insulin-dependent diabetes from occurring after cancer treatment with checkpoint inhibitors.

The groups also hope this collaborative research will shed light on what causes type 1 diabetes in otherwise healthy adults and kids.

For more information, see the press release announcing our partnership with JDRF and the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

In addition to diabetes, PICI is also studying other autoimmune conditions that affect the endocrine system following checkpoint inhibition treatment.

Through a partnership with the National Cancer Care Alliance and Precision Cancer Research, PICI is collecting clinical data and blood samples from patients during their cancer immunotherapy treatment. We  will then monitor their immune response if they experience autoimmune symptoms.

More than 30 community hospitals and clinics affiliated with the alliance have joined the project as of spring 2019.

Together, we hope to reduce adverse effects from immunotherapy, while increasing knowledge about basic autoimmune diseases.

Research Team

Investigators working on this research initiative include: Kevan Herold, MD, Yale School of Medicine; Mark Anderson, MD, PhD, University of California, San Francisco, Jane Buckner, MD, Benaroya Research Institute; Osama Rahma, MD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

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