CRI Funded Scientists

Chao Ma, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow

New York University Medical Center

Area of Research: Leukemia

CAR (Chimeric Antigen Receptor) T-cell immunotherapy is a promising treatment that uses patients’ own immune cells to target and eliminate cancer cells. However, many patients still fail to respond. Why do some patients not respond to treatment while others do? This may be largely due to that the inability to characterize the compromised functionality of CAR T cell products prior to clinical infusion. In addition, these patients’ bone marrow niches, where leukemia resides, may adversely affect and even suppress CAR T-cell function. Therefore, a preclinical evaluation of CAR T cells, as well as understanding how CAR T cells dynamically interact with its neighbors can help improve the clinical outcomes of CAR T cell immunotherapy.

To that end, Dr. Ma is creating an ex vivo leukemic bone marrow niche model recapitulating the in vivophysiological or pathophysiological characteristics of B-ALL patients. He will then systematically evaluate CAR T cell response in the organotypic cancer model and search for underlying mechanisms and potential targets. This system would allow for tailoring the immunotherapy to each patient, lessening the time for testing different treatment options, and designing custom-made treatment plans. Furthermore, by personalizing the leukemia model, he can investigate the reasons why specific patients don’t initially respond to therapy and try to reverse the situation to make treatment more effective for them. Taken together, he hopes this “CAR T-on-a-Chip” system can bridge the gap between basic science research and clinical practice for improving the treatment of leukemia patients.

Projects and Grants

CAR T-on-a-chip: A personalized platform for screening CAR T-cell immunotherapy

New York University Medical Center | Leukemia | 2021 | Weiqiang Chen, PhD

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