Immune effector cell therapies to combat cancer

Does a patient’s immune cell fitness affect their response to cell therapies in the treatment of cancer?

Royal Perth Hospital

$20,000 –Donated in Memory of Margaret Alison Melvin

Coordinating Principal Investigator: Dr Collin Chin

Co-Investigators: Dr Benedict Carnley, Professor Wendy Erber, Professor Michael Leahy, A/Professor Agnes Yong, Dr Zlatibor Velickovic.
Associate Investigators: Dr Hun Chuah, Dr Melita Cirillo

Thanks to a generous donation in memory of Margaret Alison Melvin, the Foundation awarded a 2024 Seed Funding Grant to Dr Collin Chin. With this funding, Dr Chin and his team will investigate how a patient’s immune cell fitness affects their response to cell therapies.

Immune effector cell (IEC) therapies harness the power of the immune system to combat cancer cells and represent a new era in the battle against cancer. One type of IEC therapy is chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells, where clinicians take immune cells from the patient’s blood, genetically modify them in the lab to recognise cancer cells and then reinfuse them into the patient’s bloodstream to kill cancers.  IEC therapies such as CAR T-cell therapy have the potential to cure patients with otherwise fatal cancers.

While these new treatments show immense promise, they are very expensive, and more than half of patients relapse or do not respond to the treatment. This project aims to predict which patients will benefit most from IEC therapies. This will help improve patient outcomes, reduce healthcare costs and help researchers develop strategies to overcome resistance to IEC.

To achieve this the project will utilise spectral flow cytometry, a technology that analyses single blood cells using lasers, to characterise the T immune cells of blood cancer patients treated with IEC therapy. Using this technology, researchers will characterise the patterns of T cell exhaustion in these patients to identify patients who will benefit most from the therapy.

The team will also identify patients who have poor clinical outcomes and develop methods to overcome treatment resistance based on the data they collect. For example, if specific inhibitory receptors are overexpressed, future treatments might use checkpoint inhibitors to boost the effectiveness of the therapy.

By improving patient selection, this study aims to reduce healthcare costs by prioritising resources and treatment for patients who will benefit most from them. Patients resistant to IEC therapy can be guided to other treatment options such as clinical trials. This potentially represents a multi-million-dollar benefit for WA Health as CAR T-cell therapy becomes the standard of care for a select population of patients with blood cancers.

By examining blood samples from patients before and after treatment, the team aims to understand how these therapies affect T-cells and improve the effectiveness of cancer treatments, ultimately leading to better outcomes for patients with blood cancers like B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

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