Caitlin Zebley, M.D., Ph.D., a junior faculty member with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, has received a Young Investigator Award from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, which includes funding for her proposal, “Epigenetic Reprogramming of CAR T Cell Therapy.” The award includes a grant of $150,000 over two years that will allow her to plan a trial for CAR T cell therapy. Zebley works in the laboratory of Ben Youngblood, Ph.D., in the St. Jude Department of Immunology, where she also worked as a student in the St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences before earning her doctorate in 2020.
Immunotherapy with T cells genetically modified to express chimeric antigen receptors (CAR T cells) is a promising therapy for patients with relapsed or refractory B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Unfortunately, not all patients have longlasting cures, and studies are needed to better understand why this type of therapy works in some but not all patients. Zebley’s research focuses on improving CAR T cell therapy outcomes for patients with ALL and explores the possibility of preventing CAR T cell exhaustion once the cells are infused into patients.
“The goal is to identify barriers limiting current CAR T cell therapies,” Zebley said. “During the process of generating CAR T cells, we will have opportunities to enhance various traits to generate a more potent therapeutic response.”
Youngblood called the award much deserved. “From day one of meeting Caitlin, it was clear that she would lead efforts to help fulfill the St. Jude mission to advance cures for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment,” he said.
The NCCN is a nonprofit alliance of leading cancer centers that is focused on patient care, research and education.
“Caitlin is an outstanding junior faculty member and well deserving to receive this award,” said Stephen Gottschalk, M.D., chair of the St. Jude Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cellular Therapy. “Her project is highly relevant to T cell immunotherapy for pediatric cancer, and I am looking forward to translating her approach into early phase clinical testing in the future.”
The St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences was founded in 2015 to educate the next generation of researchers and health care professionals at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. By training researchers to probe the molecular basis of disease and therapy, medical practitioners to conduct clinical and translational research, and health professionals to improve health care systems worldwide, the Graduate School is committed to the advancement of global heath and the discovery of cures for pediatric catastrophic diseases. The Graduate School’s degree programs include the Biomedical Sciences doctoral program, the Global Child Health master’s program, and the Clinical Investigations master’s program. To learn more, visit www.stjude.org/graduate-school or follow the Graduate School on social media at @StJudeGraduate (Twitter) and @StJudeGradSchool (Facebook, Instagram).