Investigators in the Clinical Research Division’s Program in Immunology are also members of the cross-divisional Immunotherapy Integrated Research Center (IIRC). Together, they are focused on learning how immune cells respond to disease and how to safely enhance immune responses to better control, cure and potentially prevent cancers and other serious diseases. Nobel Prize–winning work on bone marrow transplantation began in the 1960s at the Fred Hutch, providing the first definitive example of the immune system’s curative power. Fred Hutch researchers went on to show that donor immune T cells play a major role in successful transplant outcomes.
In the 1990s, Program in Immunology investigators proved that specific disease-targeting T cells can be isolated, expanded in the laboratory and adoptively transferred to patients to augment T cell immunity. Techniques have since been developed to genetically engineer T cells to impart a desired specificity and to enhance their survival and anti-cancer activities. And, studies are now showing how to use other types of immune cells to boost therapeutic immune responses. The Immunotherapy Integrated Research Center was launched in 2016 to broaden the translational research efforts and further accelerate innovation by developing critical infrastructure and promoting interdisciplinary collaborations. With our depth and breadth of expertise, we are advancing a detailed understanding of immunological processes and developing revolutionary immunotherapies to fight disease, with a particular emphasis on cell-based therapies.
Fred Hutch researchers are learning how to empower a patient’s own immune system to do what it does naturally — fight disease. We continue discovering new ways to give the immune cell army the upper hand against cancer, learning how immune cells respond to disease and how to safely enhance immune responses to better control, cure and potentially prevent cancers and other serious diseases.
The Fred Hutch team is advancing many state-of-the-art immunotherapy approaches, which include cell-based therapies, vaccines and antibody therapies. Clinical trials in which targeted T cells were produced, expanded and infused into patients to treat otherwise life-threatening viral infections, including HIV , were first performed at Fred Hutch and established the principles for using antigen-specific T cells to treat human diseases. This approach is being refined by re-programming T cells with chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) to seek out and kill cancer cells, with life-saving results for patients with leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
Our team is now testing CAR and T cell receptor (TCR) engineered T cell therapies for other cancers, including leukemia, melanoma, sarcoma, and breast, pancreatic and lung cancers. T cell therapies have been also developed to prevent the graft-versus-host disease that can happen when bulk T cells attack healthy tissues after bone marrow transplantation. State-of-the-art laboratory techniques, most developed right here at the Fred Hutch, are used to monitor the behavior of the infused T cells, determine what might limit their ability to destroy cancer cells and learn how T cell therapies might be further improved.
Lives are already being saved. The vision of our program is to develop safe and effective immunotherapies against many cancers, and benefit patients around the world.
We are involved in a number of clinical trials of adoptive T cell therapies, specific T cell subsets used in stem cell transplantation, and T cell-activating vaccines and drug treatments.
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