Dr. Reema Jain’s research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center focuses on developing new methods that could improve an emerging form of cancer immunotherapy called CAR T-cell therapy, in which patients’ immune cells are genetically engineered to eliminate their cancers.
A challenge with CAR T-cell therapy is that the engineered cells tend to die out over time, which puts patients at risk for relapse.
Jain, a postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Jarrod Dudakov, has been awarded two years of salary and research support from the Fred Hutch Immunotherapy Integrated Research Center to develop new methods that could make it possible to safely and efficiently genetically engineer CARs into self-renewing blood stem cells, instead of patients’ mature T cells. In theory, this would supply the patient with a perpetual supply of new CAR T cells to continue killing off newly emerging cancer cells.
The methods she is developing make use of recent discoveries by her mentors Dudakov and Hans-Peter Kiem, whose teams found that key blood stem cells are regulated by a sex hormone called luteinizing hormone. Jain is working on ways to identify these blood stem cells by detecting their receptor for LH, and then isolate them for genetic engineering with a CAR. She is also developing a drug targeted at the LH receptor; the goal is to safely eliminate existing, non-engineered blood stem cells so the engineered ones have space to grow.
She anticipates her methods would also have applications in other types of therapies, including other types of gene therapy, as well as bone marrow transplant.
Susan Keown was a staff editor and writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center from 2014-2022 who has written about health and research topics for a variety of research institutions. Find her on Twitter @sejkeown.