Christopher Hourigan received both his M.D. and D. Phil. in human immunology from Oxford University. After residency training in medicine at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital in London and the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, he joined the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital where he completed both his clinical fellowship in medical oncology and postdoctoral research training in the Immunology and Immunotherapy research program. Dr. Hourigan came to the NHLBI in January 2012 as a Clinical Fellow in the Hematology Branch and became an Assistant Clinical Investigator in August 2012.
While considerable therapeutic advances using targeted therapies have been made for many malignancies, the most common treatment for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) has not changed in nearly 40 years. Although the majority of patients treated with chemotherapy will achieve an initial remission, subsequent treatment with either further chemotherapy or allogeneic stem cell transplantation (SCT) is effective at preventing leukemic relapse in only approximately half of these individuals. The outlook is often especially suboptimal for those diagnosed with AML but not eligible for this intensive therapy due to advanced age or medical co-morbidity. Despite the lack of progress with conventional treatments, recent advances in the scientific understanding of the genetic diversity of AML, new developments in immunotherapy and the powerful graft-versus-leukemia effect already observed after SCT all offer hope that AML is potentially susceptible to control by the immune system in the non-SCT setting.
Dr. Hourigan’s research focuses on three complementary approaches that are united by an overriding theme of performing translational “bedside to bench” human immunology research in order to find ways to prevent and treat AML relapse. These efforts are strengthened by collaborations with the systems immunology and bioinformatics capabilities of the NIH’s Center for Human Immunology and Inflammation (CHI) and the core facility expertise of the NHLBI in proteomics and flow cytometry.
The first research goal of Dr. Hourigan’s lab is to identify leukemia specific antigens that may represent unique patient-specific targets that could form the basis of both future personalized immunotherapy and disease surveillance. Dr. Hourigan’s group is establishing collaborations with leukemia centers across the country to collect blood samples from AML patients to systematically generate a comprehensive understanding of which antigens are present in AML. A second, and related, area of research undertaken by Dr. Hourigan’s lab involves the detection and monitoring of specific leukemia immune responses in patients, particularly before and after immunotherapy. The goal of this work is to identify phenotypic and functional immune correlates of clinical protection from leukemic relapse. Finally, the third area of research focuses on analyzing the “immune health” of AML patients using a systems biology approach. Dr. Hourigan hopes to determine predictive biomarkers of the ability to respond to immunization after conventional chemotherapy treatment and to search for immune prognostic markers associated with successful long term clinical outcomes.
The work carried out by Dr. Hourigan’s laboratory should help bring clinicians one step closer to developing more personalized treatments for AML and will hopefully provide a rational platform for the development of the next generation of immunotherapy.