Stand Up to Cancer grant funds research on potential new treatment for deadly glioblastoma (320x240)
Stand Up to Cancer grant recipient Dr. Meenakshi Hegde with SU2C co-founder Katie Couric.

Dr. Meenakshi Hegde of Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Cancer Center was awarded a grant from the Stand Up to Cancer organization for her research focused on finding new treatment for glioblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor.

Hegde, assistant professor of pediatrics – hematology/oncology, received one of 10 Stand Up to Cancer Innovative Research Grants for early-career scientists whose research is in the area of immuno-oncology. The three-year, $750,000 grants are funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb. She and the other recipients were announced this week at the 2017 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, the scientific partner of Stand Up to Cancer.

“The outlook for patients with glioblastoma is very poor. The five-year survival rate is less than 5 percent, so effective new therapies are urgently needed,” said Hegde, who also is part of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor, Texas Children’s Hospital and Houston Methodist.

Hegde’s work focuses on chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells that specifically recognize and target the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), a protein that is associated with glioblastoma. These HER2 CAR T cells have shown promising results in patients enrolled in a phase 1 clinical trial at Baylor College of Medicine. While they have high therapeutic potential, there is a clear need to improve their anti-glioblastoma activity, Hegde said.

In this project awarded by Stand Up to Cancer, Hegde and her lab will develop a novel methodology to endow the patient’s tumor-targeted CAR T cells with the ability to centrally overcome multiple T cell inhibitory pathways in order to enhance their anti-glioblastoma activity. Through this collaborative and innovative research, Hegde’s team aims to gain insight into the fundamental mechanisms of inhibitory signals in CAR T cells, which is critical for designing more effective new generation CARs and creating a ‘T cell platform’ that is resistant to being crippled within the tumor microenvironment.

“This study has the potential to dramatically improve outcomes for glioblastoma patients and advance information leading to future standards in brain tumor immunotherapy,” Hegde said.

Stand Up to Cancer was established in 2008 by film and media leaders, including co-founder Katie Couric. To date, 36 early career researchers have been awarded through the Innovative Research Grants.