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Developing a way to visually track immunotherapy treatments inside patients

  • Researcher: Dr Gilbert Fruhwirth
  • Institution: King's College, London, England
  • Award Amount: £170,479 for 2 years from 1st June 2016
  • Cancer Type: General Cancer Research
Developing a way to visually track immunotherapy treatments inside patients
Dr Gilbert Fruhwirth at King’s College London is developing a way to observe immunotherapy treatments at work inside patients.

Immunotherapy is a relatively new treatment which is based on ‘training’ the immune system to attack cancer, and which has already had spectacularly good results in some early clinical trials.

Dr Fruhwirth and his team are interested in CAR immunotherapy, a promising type of personalised treatment which involves genetically modifying some of the patient's own immune cells to recognise and kill cancer cells. The ‘souped-up’ immune cells, called CAR T-cells, are then transferred back to the patient and let loose on the cancer.

The trouble is, it’s hard to follow what these ninja T-cells do next.

“CAR immunotherapy is a live-cell therapy,” says Dr Fruhwirth, “so we’d really like to be able to actually monitor what’s happening in the patient. If we can track in real-time the arrival of CAR T-cells at the tumours, for example, and measure how many get there and how long they stay active against the tumour, it will be much easier for us to judge how well the treatment is working.”

Dr Fruhwirth aims to insert a gene into CAR T-cells that will make them visible to highly sensitive imaging techniques when they are inside a patient’s body. During this project he will test out his concept in the lab, gathering evidence that will form the basis of later human trials. “If successful, we can start a new Phase I clinical trial to test this technology in humans. We believe this project will ultimately help improve how we monitor CAR immunotherapy, and ensure its safety”
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