Fall 2019

Cancer and the common cold

The U's Masato Yamamoto
Courtesy Department of Surgery

Masato Yamamoto was frustrated. As a gastroenterologist in Japan, he saw patient after patient with advanced pancreatic cancer. The available treatments didn’t offer much hope. 

“I was taking care of my patients but I wasn’t treating them,” he explains. Yamamoto was so disheartened by his inability to help that he moved to the United Statesto pursue a research career. He is now the Eugene C. and Gail V. Sit Chair in Pancreatic and Gastrointestinal Cancer Research at the University of Minnesota.

Support from the endowed position has allowed him to accelerate his work in several areas, one of which is re-engineering viruses to fight cancer. Yamamoto and his team are reprogramming the adenovirus, which causes the common cold, to selectively kill pancreatic cancer cells. 

“Our original question was, ‘How can we treat the tumor without causing harm?’” To do that, they designed a “smart” virus that replicates and kills cancer cells without harming the patient. 

Yamamoto and his colleagues will start enrolling patients in a clinical trial later this year and begin testing the smart virus in 2020. 

“Funding from the Sit chair will help us bring these therapies to the clinic sooner and give patients hope,” he says.