Weian Zhao, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, has received two grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs to develop cancer tissue-sensing, engineered immune-system T cells (called CAR-T) to treat breast and colon cancer metastases, respectively.
“Solid tumor metastasis has extremely low long-term survival rate and is currently responsible for over 90% of cancer deaths,” says Zhao. “Recently, T cells bearing engineered chimeric antigen receptors (CAR-T cells) have showed tremendous promise in treating hematological cancers but still face tremendous challenges in treating solid cancers.”
Due to low-level systemic expression of most tumor antigens, conventional CAR-T can be activated at non-tumor sites leading to major side effects. Numerous patients have been killed by such undesirable side effect in clinical trials.
Zhao aims to to develop smart CAR-T cell therapy that are more effective and less toxic by targeting the unique microenvironment where cancer cells reside. His findings can potentially be applied to many other forms of solid cancers.