CRI Funded Scientists

Junyun Lai, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow

The University of Melbourne (Australia)

Area of Research: All Cancers

Cell therapies, such as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells, are successful in treating blood cancers. However, they’re not as effective against solid cancers of the breast, lung, ovaries, etc. A major reason for this is because not all cancer cells express the cancer protein recognized by CAR T cells. Cancer cells that are not recognized and eliminated can consequently lead to cancer relapse and recurrence. Dr. Lai’s research aims to overcome this by engaging the body’s own immune system.

Specifically, she and colleagues have engineered CAR T cells to secrete a soluble molecule that boosts dendritic cells, the sentinels of the immune system that coordinate responses against cancer. Excitingly, they have discovered that these newly engineered CAR T cells not only eliminate the cancer cells they recognize, but also trigger the eradication of cancer cells that don’t express the targeted protein. This has led to new research directions to improve its potential for clinical translation. Given that hundreds of CAR T cell clinical trials are ongoing worldwide, this work stands to benefit a broad range of patients by overcoming a major barrier that has prevented CAR T cells in solid cancers from achieving the same effectiveness seen in blood cancers.

Projects and Grants

Enhancing CAR T Cell Therapy of Solid Cancers by Engaging the Host Immune System

The University of Melbourne (Australia) | All Cancers | 2021 | Phillip K. Darcy, PhD

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