CRI Funded Scientists

Lauren B. Banks, PhD, CRI-Bristol Myers Squibb Postdoctoral Fellow

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Area of Research: Sarcoma

Sarcomas are rare cancers from the body’s connective tissues. Desmoplastic small round cell tumor (DSRCT) is a sarcoma primarily affecting younger patients. Despite aggressive but toxic treatments, DSRCT often comes back and is fatal. Therefore, there is an urgent need to find new DSRCT treatments. Immunotherapy cancer treatments help the body fight cancer using immune cells called T cells to destroy cancer cells. To be effective, T cells must identify cancer cells and distinguish them from normal cells through recognition of abnormal proteins displayed on cancer cells.

A specific protein abnormality, called a fusion protein, causes DSRCT. A fusion protein results when genes that normally exist separately in healthy cells join together. The DSRCT fusion joins the EWSR1 and WT1 genes to make the EWSR1-WT1 fusion protein. Importantly, the EWSR1-WT1 fusion exists only in DSRCT cells, which could allow T cells to selectively target them. Preliminary work by Dr. Banks indicates that DSRCT cells display EWSR1-WT1 fusion protein on their surface. In this proposal, she seeks to understand how DSRCT cells display the protein and hopes to extend these findings to other cancers with fusion proteins.

Dr. Banks will also seek to identify T cells that recognize the displayed EWSR1-WT1 fusion protein and attack DSRCT cells. She will retrieve the genetic codes of their immune receptors and test if they allow T cells to eliminate DSRCT cells while leaving normal cells unharmed. If successful, this work can directly lead to new therapies for DSRT patients that are more effective and less toxic than current treatments.

Dr. Banks is supported by the CRI Irvington Postdoctoral Fellowship to Promote Racial Diversity.

Projects and Grants

Defining and therapeutically targeting fusion-derived public neoantigens in soft tissue sarcoma

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center | Sarcoma | 2023 | Christopher Klebanoff, MD

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