Yumeng Mao Research Leader of the Future
As the only researcher from Uppsala University, Yumeng Mao was recently selected as Future Research Leader by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, SSF. The award includes a grant of SEK 15 million for five years and leadership training during the programme.
“I’m very glad to have received this grant. We have developed several lines of exciting research and are growing our team so the SSF grant is most welcome and it will allow us to continue some of our high-risk-high-reward projects. I also look forward to take part in the leadership programme which includes a leadership course and a study visit abroad together with the other Future Research Leaders. I believe this will benefit my development as a research leader,” says Yumeng Mao.
Yumeng Mao’s research focuses on cancer immunotherapy and the kind of treatment that is called immune checkpoint blockade. This works by blocking the mechanism that cancer cells use to avoid being recognized and killed by the immune system. Unfortunately, the cancer cells can develop resistance against the checkpoint blockade and in the funded project Yumeng Mao and his team aim to determine how this resistance develops.
“We will use a data-driven approach supported by the CRISPR functional genomics platform at SciLifeLab, where we will screen the whole genome in human cancer cells for genes that can make immunotherapy work better in cultivated cells, and that hopefully will make tumors smaller in mice. To determine whether our findings are relevant for patients, we will study whether the genes are active at different levels in patients who do well after immunotherapy, as compared to those who do not benefit from the treatment. Our long-term goal is to help discover the next generation immunotherapies against human cancers.”
The possibility to develop the research findings for the use in patients is an important part of the project, as SSF grants are intended to support research that will have an impact on society.
“The application process includes an interview where I had to describe how my research team and our network, which also includes experts at the SciLifeLab Drug Discovery and Development platform and in industry, plan to find new drug targets. Our aim is to generate molecules that can be patented for therapeutic purposes and part of the grant is earmarked for patent costs.”
Earlier this year, Yumeng Mao received a Junior Investigator Award from the Swedish Cancer Society. With the new SSF grant and the ongoing research grants from the SciLifeLab Fellows Programme and the Swedish Childhood Cancer, he sees possibilities to recruit new group members and pursue novel research hypotheses.
“The overall goal with my research is to convert research findings into scientific knowledge and maybe one day to patient benefits. Right now, I think I am in a position to start,” he concludes.