A UCLA cancer research team has recently received a $7.6 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. This award will support research into genetically engineered white blood cells which can selectively target and kill tumor cells, while simultaneously activating other immune cells to do the same.
“Dr. Yang’s research is a perfect illustration of our center’s bench to patient bedside stem cell program,” said Dr. Owen Witte, director of the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center.
Dr. Lili Yang (shown right), an assistant professor in the UCLA Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics, is working to develop this new cancer treatment by utilizing the body's own immune system to target the cancerous cells and therefore eliminate the need for traditional chemotherapy drugs.
Dr. Yang's research centers around genetically modifying the immune system's blood-forming “hematopoietic” stem cells to enable them to eradicate the cancerous cells inside the body. "Invariant natural killer T cells” (iNKT cells) are the key to this approach. iNKT cells are a specialized group of white blood cells which fight disease-causing invaders in the body. Unlike generic white blood cells, they assist the immune system’s regulation of cancer, infections, allergies, and autoimmune diseases.
By increasing the number of iNKT cells in the body, Dr. Yang's team hopes to give cancer patients' immune systems the extra push they need to target and eradicate cancer cells on their own, without the need of foreign drugs or radiation. Most importantly, this approach will leave healthy cells unharmed.
“We are grateful for this new funding opportunity from CIRM, which will allow us to bring to the clinic a novel stem cell-based immunotherapy that has the potential to treat a broad range of cancers and a large population of cancer patients,” Dr. Yang notes.
The University of California, Los Angeles is known for its breakthrough medical discoveries and highly funded research projects, such as that of Dr. Yang's team, many of which have been featured on Science Market Update.
Read our past UCLA articles below:
- $10 Million Donation to UCLA Brings Hope to Migraine Sufferers
- UCLA Researchers Find Gene Mutation Key to Unlocking Mystery of Autism
- UCLA Receives $1M Donation for Lung Disease Treatments
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