Grant Application

Udai Kammula, MD, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

Proposed Innovation

Adoptive cell transfer (ACT) is an immunotherapy that uses a patient’s own immune cells to fight cancer. One type of ACT focuses on tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) — white blood cells that have learned to attack the tumor.

Researchers with the Solid Cell Therapy Program at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center have been able to select these powerful TILs from tumors, grow them in a lab outside the body, then infuse them back into the patient, effectively killing the tumor. This innovative project aims to better understand these tumor-killing lymphocytes in order to create an immunologic and metabolic blueprint for treating difficult-to-treat solid tumors like pancreatic cancer and uveal melanoma.

Improvements in Action

Investigators will use reverse engineering to study TILs that can recognize and kill cancer cells after being grown outside the body and infused back into the patient. The goal is to determine how TILs are different from the 99.9% of lymphocytes that don’t kill the tumor.

This innovative bioengineering approach starts at the end of treatment with patients who have already shown a dramatic response to immunotherapy treatment. The team will use multiomic profiling, or biological analysis, to define the immunologic and metabolic signature for these cells.

Intended Outcomes

Understanding what makes these TILs unique and how they function will allow researchers to develop ways to reprogram the TILs, potentially turning ineffective cells into effective cells to attack the cancer. This information also will be used to develop a national blueprint for guided T-cell bioengineering.

If successful, the project is expected to have a significant impact on the field of cellular therapy and potentially enhance treatment of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.