Public Release: 

Crafting a better T cell for immunotherapy

New technology, not yet tested in humans, aims to reduce patients' waiting time, increase potency of T-cell therapy

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

T-cell therapy, a form of immunotherapy that uses a patient's own immune cells to attack their cancer, has been making waves recently. The "living" therapy involves engineering the patient's T cells in the laboratory to carry new proteins that guide the immune cells directly to tumor cells, allowing the engineered T cells to attack and kill the cancer.

Now, a group of researchers led by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center immunotherapy researcher Dr. Stanley Riddell has devised a new approach that could speed and improve this process, using a special, small protein tag that can be used to purify and track the T cells once they have been engineered in the laboratory.

Riddell and his team describe the approach, and its effect on human cancer cells in the laboratory and on a mouse model of lymphoma, in a study publishing Monday in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Although not yet tested in humans, the researchers believe this new approach could improve on current T-cell therapy methods in several ways:

  • by boosting the cells' potency,
  • by growing larger numbers of cancer-fighting T cells,
  • by adding a potential "kill switch" to quickly deactivate the cells in patients' bodies in the event of toxic side effects and
  • by cutting down the immune cell processing time from the current 14 to 20 days before reinfusion to 9 days or less.

Juno Therapeutics, a biotechnology company initially formed on technology from researchers at Fred Hutch, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Seattle Children's Research Institute, has an exclusive license to the tag technology for uses related to oncology (as well as a non-exclusive license for other purposes).


At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home to three Nobel laureates, interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists seek new and innovative ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. Fred Hutch's pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation led to the development of immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system to treat cancer with minimal side effects. An independent, nonprofit research institute based in Seattle, Fred Hutch houses the nation's first and largest cancer prevention research program, as well as the clinical coordinating center of the Women's Health Initiative and the international headquarters of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. Private contributions are essential for enabling Fred Hutch scientists to explore novel research opportunities that lead to important medical breakthroughs. For more information visit or follow Fred Hutch on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

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