Dr. Melissa Lechner, assistant professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, has received a $495,000 grant from the Doris Duke Foundation to help develop ways to minimize harmful immune reactions some people diagnosed with cancer experience when undergoing immunotherapy treatment.

Immune-related complications occur in up to 60% of people treated with immune checkpoint inhibitors, a type of treatment that has been shown to improve outcomes for those with various advanced cancers. These complications can contribute to treatment interruption, hospitalizations and even premature death.

Lechner’s research is focused on better understanding the underlying mechanisms that lead to autoimmune complications, which can help the professor and her team figure out how immune cells function — and find ways to prevent or reduce these side effects.

“The cause of autoimmunity in healthy tissues is still not well understood,” said Lechner, a member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. “We are hopeful that by learning more about how autoimmune toxicities work, we can not only develop strategies to reduce these side effects in patients treated with cancer immunotherapy but also identify targets for the treatment of a broad number of autoimmune diseases.”