SCI Innovation Awardee

October 2023

Alice Ting, PhD, professor of genetics, of biology, was awarded a $50,000 SCI Innovation Award for her proposal “A synthetic GPCR platform for cell-based cancer therapy.” Ting’s lab develops tools for creating maps of individual cells as well as cellular assemblies, such as brain tissue. At the single cell level, the maps document the spatial and temporal organization of cellular components – proteins, RNA, DNA, and metabolites. At the tissue level, the maps reveal cellular circuits that give rise to function and behavior.

Immune cells engineered to attack cancer cells have revolutionized cancer therapy. Engineered T cells (CAR-T cells), for example, carry a receptor that has been modified to bind tightly to proteins expressed on the surface of cancer cells. However, while these cells have proven effective for the treatment of liquid tumors (those occurring in body fluids), they are much less effective for solid tumors, which are among the most devastating of cancers. Two problems limit the performance of CAR-T cells in solid tumors: the ability of such tumors to escape the immune system and the tendency of engineered T cells to attack healthy bystander tissue. With the support of the SCI Innovation Award, Ting will address these challenges with a new platform for T-cell engineering. She will redesign the receptor on the T-cell surface to increase its specificity for tumor cells, incorporate an on/off switch that can be controlled with drugs, and include elements designed to bypass the molecules ejected by tumors to evade the immune system. By collaborating with CAR-T cell pioneer Crystal Mackall, MD, at Stanford, she plans to test the new platform in T cells and in mouse models of prostate cancer.