Maria Inês Matias, Ph.D.

What if we could convert pro-tumor cells into tumor-fighting cells?

With my SPARK project, I aim to understand how nutrient availability in a tumor can impact killer T cells differentiation and function. Ultimately, I want to know how we can transform pro-tumoral cells into tumor-fighting cells by modulating nutrient availability.

The last few months have been dedicated to characterizing and optimizing differentiation protocols for these cells. I was able to optimize protocols to derive an expected and an unexpected killer immune cell type that share common anti-tumor features. The cells generated from these two protocols display features that might influence their persistence and tumor-killing capacity once injected into patients. I am now working toward performing deep molecular characterization of these two cell populations and comparing them with the objective cells identified in the small intestine. The outcome of this molecular profiling will guide efforts to identify the impact of nutrient availability in tumor-killing functions in T cells.

SPARKing Impact: Successfully transforming T cells that obstruct cancer immunotherapies into T cells that have a tumor-killing function would remove a major roadblock in the fight against cancer.