A University of Houston engineering professor has won a grant from the Melanoma Research Alliance to help develop one of the most promising therapies for patients with the disease.
Navin Varadarajan, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, received the Stewart Rahr-MRA Young Investigator Award. The grant gives him $225,000 over three years to study a therapy that has helped melanoma patients who aren't responding to any other treatment.
This treatment is a form of immunotherapy, an emerging field of medicine that involves engineering human immune cells to fight specific diseases. In particular, Varadarajan will study adoptive cell therapy (ACT).
ACT involves tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL), immune system cells that physically enter and then attack malignant tumors. In ACT, these cells are extracted from a patient and amplified in the lab. The stronger modified cells are then re-infused into the patient to facilitate the fight against his or her specific melanoma.
Early clinical trials using ACT to combat melanoma have been promising. Roughly 50 percent of patients have responded to the treatment, with some even going into complete remission.
"Essentially, ACT has become the last hope for survival for patients with melanoma that aren't responding to other conventional therapies," said Varadarajan.
Many other patients, however, don't respond to ACT at all. Understanding this huge gap in outcomes is the central goal of Varadarajan's research. The key to this work is a special polymer slide Varadarajan has developed dubbed the Nano well array. Instead of a flat surface, the slide has tens of thousands of individual chambers, each with a volume of about 50-100 pictoliters. At that size, the chambers are ideal for holding individual cells an incredibly valuable characteristic, said Varadarajan.
"One of the biggest challenges in biological research is studying individual cells. Standard slides are good for e
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University of Houston