These cells were Salter’s babies. He had genetically engineered their forebears to carry different versions of a cancer-targeting molecular weapon, and he was readying to put his burgeoning T-cell army to the test in dishes full of breast cancer cells. He wanted to know: Which ones of these kill cancer the best, and why?
A type of immune cell, T cells are at the heart of a class of emerging therapies that seek to aim the power of the immune system at cancer. Two approved therapies for certain advanced blood cancers involve genetically reprogramming patients’ T cells to target their tumors, and many more such strategies are in the pipeline, including at Fred Hutch. These therapies and others still in development have shown promise in eradicating even treatment-resistant cancers that have penetrated throughout patients’ bodies.
But today’s T-cell therapies are like the Wright Flyer was to aviation. While many problems have been solved to get to this point, there are so many innovations yet to come. And that’s why T-cell tinkerers like Salter and his colleagues are hard at work.