Erik Ehinger

What if we can hijack the immune system’s rubbish-disposal system to toughen T cells against cancer?

Immunotherapies have limited success in treating cancer patients, especially in solid cancer cases, because of a phenomenon scientists call T cell “exhaustion.” Although newer cell therapy approaches (i.e., CAR T cells) are successful against blood cancers, these approaches don’t address the problem of T cell exhaustion which leads to incapacitated T cells in their fight against solid tumors. With this SPARK project, I plan to attack the problem of T cell exhaustion at its source by specifically targeting the intracellular proteins causing exhaustion. This approach has the potential to influence a more potent broader anti-tumor immune response, beyond just T cellsThe potential treatment can be formulated in a pill, which means patients would not require hospitalization for treatments and has the added benefit of not creating permanently edited cells in the patient’s body.

SPARKing Impact: Although newer cell therapy approaches are successful against blood cancers, these approaches don’t address the problem of T cell exhaustion which leads to incapacitated T cells in their fight against solid tumors. With this project, I plan to attack the problem of T cell exhaustion at its source by specifically targeting the intracellular proteins causing exhaustion.