Can radiation increase the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapies? That’s a question that Zach Morris, assistant professor of Human Oncology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, is hoping to answer through his research.

Morris’ research recently got a boost from a $25,000 Ride Scholar Award, which is funded through proceeds from The Ride, a bicycle benefit for cancer research at the University of Wisconsin.

With support from this award, Morris will study a new approach to cancer treatment that involves delivering radiation to a single tumor site and then injecting the site with agents that help the immune system recognize and kill tumor cells.

“Our preliminary data suggest that this combined treatment may act like an anti-cancer vaccine,” Morris says.

Morris, who received his MD and PhD from Harvard Medical School, joined the Department of Human Oncology as an assistant professor and physician-scientist in 2016 after completing his radiation oncology residency in the department.

In the clinic, Morris primarily treats melanoma and sarcoma patients. In the laboratory, his goal is to make discoveries that lead to more effective ways to treat cancer, including using radiation to stimulate the immune system.

“Immunotherapy is one of the most promising areas in cancer drug development and treatment,” Morris says. “Some patients who respond to immunotherapies do very well. Their immune systems recognize their tumors. As a result, they may experience long-lasting responses. But such responses are not currently seen in most patients. Our hope is that this approach will improve response rates to existing immunotherapies.”