Immunotherapy Researcher’s Aim for T-Cells
In Seattle, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Christchurch-born Dr Rachel Perret, a postdoctoral research fellow, spends her days – and sometimes her nights – working toward an “off-the-shelf” version of T-cell therapy.
The type of T-cell therapy Perret is helping to develop under the mentorship of immunotherapy expert Dr Phil Greenberg, involves genetically engineering patients’ own immune cells to carry more potent versions of natural immune molecules, known as T-cell receptors, that recognise proteins made by cancer cells but not healthy cells. Such engineered T-cells are then transferred back into cancer patients where they are able to better recognise and destroy patients’ tumours.
Perret’s broader approach to the already-lifesaving technique could, one day, provide a matched immunotherapy for close to 90 per cent of patients with acute myeloid leukemia. Perret’s work could someday apply to other cancer types as well, including lung, ovarian and pancreatic cancers.
“I’m developing what we call a toolbox of off-the-shelf therapies. We hope to be able to find a panel of about 20 different [T-cell] receptors specific for two tumour proteins: WT1 and Cyclin A1,” Perret explains.
“The plan is then to keep those on hand in the laboratory, and a patient will come in to the clinic and get screened for what antigens their u expresses and what HLA type they have [HLA genes are involved in immune recognition and determine each person’s tissue type, which is important in transplantation and also for this type of T-cell therapy]. Then we’ll select the receptor that best matches that patient and, in the space of a few weeks, we’ll be able to engineer their T-cells and produce the therapy.”
Prior to her study in the US, Perret was a research fellow at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.
Original article by Rachel Tompa, Fred Hutch News Service, January 9, 2017.