University of North Carolina, 2003, MD
Research / Clinical Focus
- Dr. Lee is an expert in tumor infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, a form of immunotherapy that uses the patient’s own immune cells to attack their tumors. She leads Fred Hutch’s TIL program, one of only four in the U.S., which offers clinical trials of this approach to patients.
TILs are a type of T cell that attack cancer, but tumors are able to shut off this response before it can eradicate the disease. To harness TILs’ power, Dr. Lee and her colleagues extract these dormant cells from a piece of melanoma tumor and reactivate them in the lab. They then select those cells best able to recognize and attack the tumor and multiply those cells to the billions in the laboratory before reinfusing them into patients.
- Dr. Lee leads a TIL trial for patients with melanoma. Early results suggest that tumors in the first patients treated are responding to the therapy.
Unlike some immunotherapies that target one cancer-specific protein, TIL therapy uses a mix of T cells, which may make it a better match for cancers that don’t harbor one universal target protein. Cancers driven by environmental toxins, such as melanoma and lung cancer, are prime candidates for TIL therapy due to their high rates of mutation.
- Dr. Lee’s team is now performing preclinical work to develop TIL therapy for lung cancer, and they hope to expand the therapy to bladder cancer and head and neck cancer in the near future.
Dr. Sylvia Lee, a T.I.L. immunotherapy researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, fine-tunes patient t-cells to help them fight their own cancers.