CRI Funded Scientists

Yang Zhao, PhD , CRI-Margaret Dammann Eisner Postdoctoral Fellow

Stanford University

Area of Research: Solid Cancers

Dr. Yang Zhao is developing a safer and more effective CAR-T therapy with a specific focus on treating solid tumors. While CAR-T therapy has transformed the treatment of many blood cancers, its effectiveness against solid tumors has been limited. The primary challenge lies in T cell exhaustion, where T cells become «tired» and shift into a resting, unresponsive state upon encountering tumor cells, coupled with the limited survival of these T cells in a patient’s body. Although immune proteins called cytokines are being explored to enhance CAR-T therapy for solid tumors, these cytokines often have systemic toxicity due to their multifunctional nature. 

Dr. Zhao proposes a novel approach to enhance T cells for cancer treatment. Her strategy involves using advanced synthetic cytokine receptors to precisely control the signaling of T cells. By employing a unique signaling molecule known as «orthogonal» IL-2, she aims to craft specialized CAR-T cells with a customized receptor. The ultimate goal is to finely adjust the signaling in T cells, enhancing their effectiveness in treating solid tumors and challenging forms of leukemia. This innovative approach holds the promise of creating safer and more successful T cell therapies, ultimately improving outcomes for cancer patients. 

Projects and Grants

Empowering adoptive T cell therapy with orthogonal cytokine receptors 

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