Featured Colleague Immunobiology Noteworthy Research

Trailblazer Award Brings Washington Univeristy Faculty Together

Eynav Klechevsky, assistant professor of pathology and immunology and Amit Pathak assistant professor of mechanical engineering & material science in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University were awarded a three-year, $610,000 Trailblazer Award, from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

This award provides funding to continue their work in cancer immunotherapy, specifically maximizing killer T cell numbers, their specificity and effectiveness for the treatment of cancer.

“Our work is focused on expanding the T cells on an ideal matrix and providing them with the optimal signals, ones that are provided by dendritic cells in a healthy immune system,” Klechevsky said.

Immunotherapy also called biologic therapy, is a type of cancer treatment that boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. It uses substances made by the body or in a laboratory to improve or restore immune system function. Several types of immunotherapy are used to treat cancer.

“An efficient and robust anti-cancer immune response critically depends on vigorous activation and increase of helper, cytotoxic, and central memory T cells. However, progress on this front has been hampered by the difficulty of growing long-lived effector CD8+ T cells that are specific to the peptides presented by tumors,” Klechevsky said, “Our work involves developing a matrix platform that mimics biomechanical properties of dendritic cells for the development of antigen-specific T cells.”

Researchers can modify a cells’ behavior and properties by the changing the types of material the cell sits on also known as its microenvironment. Klechevsky and Pathak will work together to modify the microenvironment in which T cells are manipulated in a lab to mimic the biomechanical properties of dendritic cells, which are critical for the generation of T cells that can reduce tumors. Dendritic cells are found in most of the body’s tissues and process foreign substances or toxins known as antigens and present them to T cells to promote immunity.

Pathak and Klechevsky have already filed a provisional patent on their platform working with the university’s Office of Technology Management.