Engineering stem cells to improve adaptive immune function

Thousands of Canadians receive bone marrow transplants each year to treat cancer and immune disease. Unfortunately, not only is this treatment dangerous, it is only effective for a small subset of cancers and immune disorders. Our goal is to provide a safer alternative to marrow transplantation that can be applied to a broad set of indications.

A bone marrow transplant provides a patient with stem cells that will ultimately produce new immune cells capable of remedying disease. These transplants are dangerous because the recipient needs to undergo toxic chemotherapy or radiation to make room in their marrow for the donor's stem cells. To avoid this risk, the Zandstra lab has pioneered a method of producing immune cells from stem cells in the laboratory. Unlike blood stem cells, immune cells can be transplanted without destroying a patient's existing marrow.

To make this approach even more useful, I will genetically modify stem cells in the lab to correct disease-causing mutations and improve their cancer-fighting properties before turning them into immune cells. By providing a renewable supply of immune cells tailored to safely fight disease, we aim to reduce the sizeable impact of cancer and immune disorders in the province.