Melanoma immunologists net $525,000

Yee, Riddell, Greenberg strategize to enhance T-cell survival, expansion
Drs. Cassian Yee, Stan Riddell and Philip Greenberg
From left: Drs. Cassian Yee, Stan Riddell and Philip Greenberg will use their grant to explore ways of extending the life of expanded T-cells after infusion in patients with melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Photos by Susie Fitzhugh and Dean Forbes

The Melanoma Research Alliance awarded $525,000 to Drs. Cassian Yee, Stan Riddell and Philip Greenberg of the Clinical Research Division to aid their research using adoptive T-cell therapy to treat melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

The three-year award will fund further studies of this promising strategy, which involves isolating and expanding T-cells that can recognize and kill cancer cells with minimal side effects to the patient.

Only a limited number of patients have responded completely to this treatment, so the researchers are exploring two ways to extend the life of the T-cells after infusion:

  • Combine a vaccine with the T-cells to enhance their survival by driving them to multiply in the patient.
  • Trigger a homeostatic response, in which the body attempts to maintain equilibrium in the immune system by producing growth factors that will expand the T-cells given.

The scientists have developed tools to track and analyze the infused T-cells, even at the single cell level, so they will be able to tell which strategy works best.

“We believe that the results of this study may benefit not only adoptive T-cell therapy of melanoma but other cancers and make it possible in the future to treat patients in a manner that is safe, effective and long-lasting,” Yee said.

Each year, more than 132,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed globally. In the U.S., melanoma incidence has tripled over the past three decades and is currently one of the top 10 causes of new cancers. Very early stage melanoma is greater than 90 percent curable with surgery, while patients with stage 4 melanoma have a median life expectancy of less than one year.

MRA supports novel research programs worldwide to advance scientific understanding of melanoma and enable the development of better prevention, diagnosis and treatment approaches. In three years MRA has awarded nearly $22 million to 50 programs in eight countries.

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