University of Minnesota Team Receives $1M to Develop CAR-NK Therapy

University of Minnesota Team Receives $1M to Develop CAR-NK Therapy
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car-NK therapies Challenge award

The Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) has granted a $1 million Challenge Award to researchers from the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota to support their investigations into new therapies for prostate cancer.

With this award, the PCF hopes to accelerate the development of strategies to improve prostate cancer patients’ outcomes.

Through the Challenge Awards, the foundation supports cross-disciplinary teams to develop challenging projects that are not eligible for current grants and awards. The teams are encouraged to use state-of-the-art biotechniques and to include new research expertise in basic or translational research.

This is the first Challenge Award in the history of the foundation that was solely awarded to investigators at the University of Minnesota (UMN).

Led by Aaron LeBeau, PhD, assistant professor in the department of pharmacology, and Branden Moriarity, PhD, assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the UMN Medical School, the project aims to use a patient’s own immune cells to fight cancer.

While cell-based therapies using T cells are already being used for some cancer types, LeBeau and Moriarty are hoping to devise an immunotherapy that uses natural killer (NK) cells instead.

NK cells are an integral component of the immune system and play a major role in protecting against cancer. They are able to recognize certain tumor cells and virus-infected cells, and kill them by injecting cell-degrading proteins into the malignant cells.

While NK and T cells have similar anti-cancer properties, NK cells don’t require the same donor matching as T cells, which could cut down the cost of the therapy compared to CAR-T cell therapies.

The team plans to modify the NK cells with a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) for targeted activation, making these cells more prone to hunt down and eliminate drug-resistant prostate cancer cells.

“Using cutting-edge genome engineering technology, we have developed methods to generate CAR NK cells from NK cells in the blood,” Moriarity said in a press release.

“Our goal is to have a CAR NK cell therapy into the clinic for prostate cancer patients within a few years,” LeBeau said. “We believe that it will prolong the life expectancy of, or even cure, men with aggressive prostate cancer.”

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