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Each week, the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy will highlight the bold work of researchers who have received funding from the Eshelman Institute for Innovation (EII). The Eshelman Institute for Innovation is made possible by a $100 million gift from Fred Eshelman to accelerate the creation and development of ideas leading to discoveries and transformative changes in education, research and health care. To learn more about the EII’s impact, visit

Meet: Elena V. Batrakova, Ph.D.

Project: Engineering 3D Models of Cancer Metastasis with Pro-Inflammatory Microenvironment for Cancer Immunotherapy

Funded Amount: $50,000

About Project: Three-dimensional in vitro models fill the gap between cell cultures and whole-animal systems. The purpose of this project was to engineer ex vivo 3D models of cancer metastases with a pro-inflammatory microenvironment, and utilize them to develop cancer immunotherapy. This represents an innovative approach for cancer treatment by using the patient’s own white blood cells, engineered to target and kill cancer metastases. Three models of lung metastases derived from melanoma and renal cancer were developed. In addition, white blood cells carrying IL2 were effective in treating tumor models in mice. During this work, a novel nanoformulation was developed to treat lung metastases and triple negative breast cancer. This technology is being optimized. The obtained data strongly suggests drug formulations showed efficient inhibition of tumor growth in orthotopic mouse models of triple negative breast cancer and pulmonary metastases.

“I am really grateful for the Eshelman Institute for Innovation’s support,” Elena said. “What’s unique for the EII is that they finance cutting edge, innovative proposals.”

Researchers on project: Haney M.J., Zhao Y., Jin Y.S., Li S.M., Bago J.R., Klyachko N.L., Kabanov A.V., and Batrakova E.V.

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