Grants - Translational Grants - Texas - 2019

Meenakshi Hegde, M.D.

Funded by the Dick Vitale Pediatric Cancer Research Fund

Sarcomas are cancers of connective tissues in the human body. It affects children and teenagers more than adults. Cancers that spread to other parts of the body are difficult to treat and are not often curable. A new treatment approach called immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Our approach uses immune cells of the body, namely T cells, to find and kill tumor cells after introducing an artificial molecule called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). These CAR-enhanced T cells developed in our laboratory recognize a protein on the surface of the cancer cell, namely HER2. Patients with advanced sarcoma received these HER2-specific CAR T cells in our ongoing clinical trial. The CAR T cells did not cause severe adverse reactions in any of the treated patients. More than half of the 10 patients who received the cell treatment benefited from it, with 2 patients achieving tumor elimination and 4 others achieving cancer stabilization. We will now test if larger dose of T cells can be tolerated or increase the chances of benefit. We will also study immune responses in these patients to identify mechanisms, if any, that can lead to improved treatments. Finally, we will evaluate a new molecule that can help CAR T cells overcome tumor signals that turns them off. The insights gained from this study will help design and develop targeted treatments for sarcoma.