Caitlin Zebley of St. Jude receives NCCN Foundation Young Investigator Award

Award recognizes research with CAR T cell therapy

Researcher in lab coat sitting in a lab and smiling at camera.

Caitlin Zebley, M.D., Ph.D., a junior faculty member with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, has been awarded a Young Investigator Award from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

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.”

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80% since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch

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