UI professor working to develop prostate cancer vaccine

BY KATIE HEINE | JULY 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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David Lubaroff defines research as 90 percent frustration and 10 percent elation. And despite spending much of his research career in the state of frustration, he continues to revel in the successes.

The 73-year-old professor of urology has devoted the past 38 years at the University of Iowa studying the immunology of prostate cancer. Through his research, Lubaroff has made great progress with developing an immunization for prostate cancer.

"It's a continuous challenge but very rewarding," he said.

Since 1973, Lubaroff has been studying whether immunity could be developed against cancer cells — specifically in the prostate.

Lubaroff and his colleagues developed a vaccination and tested it on mice, and it proved to be safe with no serious side effects, he said.

Today, the vaccination is in a clinical trial to indicate whether the vaccination offers any clinical benefits, he said.

"[Lubaroff] is one of the few basic scientists who has been able to lead the development of a clinical trial for prostate cancer," said Rick Domann, a UI professor of radiation oncology.

Results of the clinical trial so far are encouraging, Lubaroff said. While the trial still has at least a year and half before its completion, he continues to analyze the data.

And his passion for research is evident among his colleagues.

"I've observed that David is a wonderfully unselfish person," said Gail Bishop, the associate director of basic science research at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. "He's done lots of things for the institution and for research nationally that don't involve his own personal glory."

For example, Lubaroff has been directly involved with a program encouraging minority students to study prostate cancer.

The Prostate Cancer Research Training Program is currently in its sixth summer at the UI, and it allows students to attend an eight-week research program. The goal of the program is to increase the number of minority students in the field of prostate cancer research, Lubaroff said.

Bishop said the summer program is a great asset to the UI. Because Iowa City has a low minority rate, she said, it's often a struggle to attract minorities to grad school — especially in the Midwest.

Of the 31 students who have participated in the program, 74 percent have went on to post-graduate school.

Lubaroff, a Philadelphia native, said he fell in love with research during his sophomore year of college after working in a research lab. He received an M.S. from Georgetown and a Ph.D. from Yale.

Eventually, a colleague from the UI informed him of an opening for an immunology position in Iowa City, and Lubaroff jumped at the opportunity. He has stayed for nearly four decades.

"As I've been here longer and longer and get closer to thinking about retiring, I feel that things have gotten so much better and new things are opening up in research that I almost don't want to stop," he said.

Regardless, his colleagues agree that he would be greatly missed.

"There would definitely be a noticeably empty chair in the room," Domann said.

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