Kristin Anderson, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Cancer Biology, earned a NIH Research Career Development (K) Award in the fourth quarter of FY23. K Awards are a vital funding source to support faculty as they grow in their research and serve as a launch pad for future funding opportunities.
Many patients with solid tumors are diagnosed at a late stage or develop chemotherapy-resistant disease, and then have few treatment options. The major long-term goal of Dr. Anderson’s research lab is to advance therapies to address this critical gap in care, with a focus on ovarian and pancreatic cancers. Her team develops engineered T cell immunotherapies, integrating cellular and molecular techniques with in vivo mouse models and in vitro patient-based models of solid tumors to study the complex interactions between anti-tumor T cells and the tumor microenvironment. Her group has already established a robust portfolio of tools that target and enhance T cell persistence, function, and metabolism, with real potential for clinical translation. Dr. Anderson’s recent K22 Transition Career Development Award provides additional financial support for her lab for the next three years.
The studies supported by Dr. Anderson’s K22 Award aim to overcome inhibitory receptor signaling in tumor-targeting T cells, a critical obstacle in solid tumors. Many cells within solid tumors, including cancer cells, express molecules that block T cells from killing cancer cells, like stop signs to the immune system. One approach for overcoming these stop signs is a treatment that masks the molecules, hiding the stop sign and allowing T cells to continue to function. This treatment, called “checkpoint blockade,” has shown efficacy against many solid tumors but results have been modest for ovarian cancer patients. This approach also has the unintended side effect of blocking the stop signs for all T cells, not just T cells that kill cancer, and has resulted in adverse side effects in some patients, like joint pain and rashes. Dr. Anderson’s K22 studies are intended to use engineering to disrupt these stop signals specifically in engineered tumor-targeting T cells, with the goal of simultaneously increasing anti-tumor efficacy while reducing adverse side effects.