The human immune system is equipped to fight many types of pathogens, but often it is unable to fight diseases such as cancer. Lili Yang, a member of the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center, is working to change that. With new funding awarded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Yang hopes to engineer the body’s immune system to give it the ability to attack and kill cancerous cells, while leaving healthy tissues unharmed.
By genetically engineering blood-forming stem cells, Yang will generate a special kind of white blood cell that can both directly kill tumor cells and activate other immune cells to eradicate cancerous tumors.
Yang’s grant of $7,659,309 is the largest of seven awards funded by CIRM’s governing board under the 2.0 Translation Program. This program supports projects that will be ready to enter clinical trials in 30 months.
“We are grateful for this new funding opportunity from CIRM, which will allow us to bring to the clinic a novel stem cell-based immunotherapy that has the potential to treat a broad range of cancers and a large population of cancer patients,” said Yang, an assistant professor in the UCLA Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics.