Dr. Anusha Kalbasi, assistant professor of radiation oncology in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and researcher at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, has been selected as a NextGen Star by the American Association for Cancer Research, the world’s largest professional association related to cancer research.

Kalbasi is one of 16 honorees who were recognized as promising young scientists for their cancer research. As a NextGen Star, Kalbasi will present his work on April 12 during the organization’s annual meeting, which is being held virtually this month. He will discuss how engineering T cells with an orthogonal IL-9 receptor gives them superior anti-cancer properties that obviate the need for conditioning chemotherapy, which is otherwise required for T-cell therapy of cancer. This work was done under the mentorship of Dr. Antoni Ribas at UCLA and in collaboration with Dr. Christopher Garcia at Stanford University, who invented the orthogonal signaling technology.

“Normally, patients getting T-cell therapies have to undergo a toxic round of conditioning chemotherapy to get rid of their existing immune cells to make room for the new T cells,” Kalbasi said. “This chemotherapy can keep patients in the hospital, sometimes for weeks. We think our research shows that orthogonal IL-9 receptors will let us deliver T cells directly to patients without conditioning chemotherapy. This would completely change the way we do T-cell therapy by making it much more feasible and accessible for patients.”

Under the mentorship of Dr. Ribas, professor of medicine and director of the tumor immunology program at the Jonsson Cancer Center, Kalbasi focuses his research efforts on how to expand the reach of immunotherapy for patients with cancer, testing novel approaches in the laboratory and in clinical trials, with a focus on patients with sarcoma and melanoma.