As an inaugural CRI Lloyd J. Old STAR, Dr. Yvonne Chen aims to use synthetic biology and biomolecular engineering techniques to develop safer and more effective T cell immunotherapies for cancer.
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy has shown remarkable success against B cell cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, but several obstacles have limited the durability of their benefits and their effectiveness against other types of cancers. Now, Dr. Chen is exploring several strategies to improve their effectiveness, including the design of CARs that can recognize multiple targets, those that target soluble proteins and resist the immune-suppressing capabilities of the tumor environment, and those that can better discriminate between cancerous and healthy cells in order to avoid off-target effects.
Overall, Dr. Chen is working to further improve T cell therapy by:
- (a) gaining a systematic understanding of the sequence-structure-function relationship in CARs to enable more rational CAR designs;
- (b) building genetic circuitry to dynamically regulate the signaling pathways that influence the long-term persistence and functionality of CAR T cells; and
- (c) engineering T cells that can effectively modify the tumor microenvironment to promote immune infiltration and recruit natural immune responses against cancers that would otherwise escape immune attack.
With these technologies that are grounded in mechanistic understanding, Chen hopes that it will enable the development of innovative technologies that can benefit more patients with hard-to-treat cancers.
READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH DR. YVONNE CHEN
Projects and Grants
Engineering Smarter and Stronger T Cells for Cancer Immunotherapy
University of California, Los Angeles | All Cancers | 2019
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