Dan Chen is a NOMIS Center Postdoctoral Fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies (La Jolla, US).
Chen was born and raised in China, and obtained her BS in cellular and molecular biology from Nantong University and her PhD from Nanjing University. During her undergraduate and graduate training, she received numerous awards, including the College Outstanding Students Fellowship, Innovation Project of Jiangsu Province Postgraduate Training Fellowship, and Outstanding Graduate Student of Nanjing University Award. During her doctoral studies, Chen investigated how non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) can develop resistance to a class of anti-cancer drugs, known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs).
As a NOMIS Fellow, Chen will direct her expertise in cancer research toward understanding the anti-tumor immune response to one of the deadliest forms of cancer: glioblastoma. Glioblastoma affects cells in the brain and nervous system, which makes it extremely difficult to treat with typical approaches such as chemotherapy. Using an animal model, she found that a treatment known as an anti-CTLA-4 checkpoint inhibitor monotherapy—which activates the host’s immune cells to attack cancer cells—extended the lifetimes of glioblastoma-bearing mice. Further experiments showed that the effectiveness of this treatment was dependent on the presence of a type of immune cells called CD4+ T-cells, which are supported, in turn, by other immune cells called microglia. She has made multiple discoveries indicating that microglia have the potential to activate CD4+ T cells in glioblastoma to maintain their anti-tumor function, but they often lose this function during tumor progression. Currently, Chen is investigating the mechanisms and strategies to reprogram and rejuvenate microglias’ anti-tumor activity, with the ultimate goal of developing an effective combination therapy to treat this often fatal disease.