Stanford Cancer Institute

SCI Women’s Cancer Center Innovation Awardee

October 2023

Livnat Jerby, PhD, Assistant Professor of Genetics, was awarded a $50,000 SCI Women's Cancer Center Innovation Award for her proposal “Reprogramming lymphocyte migration to overcome immune exclusion in breast cancer – towards cell therapies with spatial specificity.” Jerby develops high-throughput, engineering-based approaches to investigate molecular pathways that regulate immune cells, particularly in the context of cancer. Her goal is to use this knowledge to modulate immune function, both to learn about regulation of immune responses\ and to be able to modify these responses to treat disease.

Acting as part of our innate immune system, natural killer (NK) cells identify and destroy infected or abnormal cells, including cancer cells. However, their numbers within tumors are often low. A method to increase their migration towards tumors, and enhance their entry into the tumors, could be a powerful cancer treatment strategy. Through the support of the SCI Women's Cancer Center Innovation Award, Jerby is proposing to work towards this goal by investigating the mechanisms that enable NK cells to enter breast cancer tumors. Using genetic tools to turn genes on or off in NK cells, Jerby will test thousands of genetic perturbations to identify those that make NK cells better at migrating, penetrating, and eliminating the tumor. Her preliminary work already demonstrates the potential of this approach, as she has been able to identify specific genes that boost NK trafficking to the tumor. This work may enable the use of genetically modified NK cells as a ‘living drug’ for cancer treatment, and the approach may be extended to other tumor types as well as other immune cells.