Skardal receives Pelotonia Idea Award

Posted: March 5, 2021


Aleks Skardal - web
Dr. Aleksander Skardal

Aleksander Skardal, PhD, assistant professor (BME), and his collaborator Joal Beane, MD, in surgical oncology, was awarded a two-year Pelotonia Idea Grant for their project titled "Ex vivo generation of tumor-reactive T cells using an immune enhanced, patient derived tumor organoid-on-a-chip (iTOC)." This $200K award runs from January 1, 2021 - December 31, 2022. Skardal and Beane will use bioengineering and biofabrication techniques to develop novel immunotherapies for different cancers. 

Description of project: Immunotherapy has gained a significant amount of interest as a curable treatment strategy for patients with cancer as they can harness a patient’s own immune system to attack and kill tumor cells. T cell-based therapies are a type of immunotherapy that use a patient’s own T cells to target a specific protein on the surface of the cells in the tumor. By harvesting T cells from the patient’s tumor, expanding the

Joal Beane
Dr. Joal Beane

cells to large numbers in the laboratory, and infusing the product back into the host, the T cells can successfully target and kill tumor cells. While encouraging, this approach requires surgical intervention to resect a patient’s tumor and harvest the T cells (termed tumor infiltrating lymphocytes, TIL) and this approach has only been proven for a few types of cancers. To make T cell-based immunotherapy more successful and more available to patients, our team is combining our experience in immune oncology with a bioengineering-based platform of biofabricated patient-specific tumor models, called organoids, that are housed in microfluidic devices. We are using these immune-enhanced patient tumor organoids from melanoma patients, to train a patient’s own T cells to recognize not one, but many proteins present on their own tumors. We believe that these educated T cells will have an enhanced capability to target tumor cells compared to current T cell-based therapies. We will test this hypothesis by validating the efficacy of these T cells’ tumor killing ability, and characterize the extent to which their tumor recognition capabilities have been expanded. If successful, this technology could lead to more effective immunotherapies in the clinic.

Congratulations Drs. Skardal and Beane!


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