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Potentiating Novel Engineered Cellular Therapies for Solid Tumors

Marcela V. Maus, MD, PhD

Dr. Maus is an assistant professor at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston. Her SU2C Innovative Research Grant project, awarded in 2017, is titled “Potentiating Novel Engineered Cellular Therapies for Solid Tumors.”

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most common malignant brain tumor, has a dismal prognosis, with median survival of only 12 to 15 months. Development of novel and targeted therapies are, therefore, critical to treat this devastating disease. Recent studies have raised hopes that immunotherapy, whose aim is to harness the body’s own immune system to fight cancer, and has recently established itself as a proven therapy for primarily leukemia and lymphomas, may be able to reverse this trend. In a recent clinical trial lead by Dr. Maus and her lab, one form of immunotherapy called Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR)-T cell treatment, was indeed successfully used to target cells containing a specific mutation present in 20-30 percent of patients with GBM. These engineered T cells successfully trafficked to the brain and eliminated tumor cells with minimal toxicity. Based on this very promising preliminary work, Dr. Maus and her lab are now proposing to develop a second generation of CAR-T cells that target cancer cells with the specific mutation, and also modulate the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment to maximize the efficacy of treatment in mouse animal models. The ultimate goal of this study is to engineer powerful T cells, resulting in a new form of potentially curative treatment for brain tumors. Furthermore, in addition to treating brain tumors, this technology has the potential to be applied as a therapy for other forms of cancer.