Varadarajan Grant

Navin Varadarajan, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Houston, was among two university researchers awarded a grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. This is the Indian American researcher’s second CPRIT grant (uh.edu photo)

Indian American researcher and associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Houston Navin Varadarajan was among two researchers at the university who were awarded with grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The other researcher to receive a grant from CPRIT, an organization that funds groundbreaking cancer research and prevention programs in the state, was Sanghyuk Chung.

Varadarajan will use his grant to bring consistent results to cancer patients undergoing T-cell immunotherapy by manufacturing programmed T cells to meet, recognize and destroy tumors, the university said.

This is Varadarajan’s second CPRIT grant; he will use it to improve patient outcomes in T-cell therapy and is studying clinical T-cell samples being used for treatment of patients at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center from two groups – those whose tumors regressed after treatment and those whose tumors were unaffected, it said.

“We have to understand every single T cell and what each one is capable of,” said Varadarajan, who is looking for the perfect cell composition in order to manufacture only the ones that cure tumors, in the report. “Once we know what is required to get a positive response, we can control the composition of the cells so that they all can work to fight cancer.”

This work will directly utilize an innovative suite of proprietary tools developed by the Varadarajan lab during the first period of CPRIT funding, according to the university.

The tools deliver real-time profiling of T cells with a video component that almost looks like a video game, in which you watch T cells devour tumors in real time, it said.

After T cells are injected with receptors, they undergo a rapid expansion process where scientists add cytokines, or small proteins, to manufacture about 1 billion cells from 1 million, the report added.

It is during this phase that Varadarajan can manipulate the cells and create those that will recognize tumors consistently, it said.

He says that studying what makes better T cells will guide the development of the next generation of genetically modified cells, and all of immunotherapy in general, though he readily admits that working with T cells can be daunting, the university report said.

“The big challenge with T cells is that there isn’t one single thing that can be used to define what a T cell is supposed to do. Because it’s a living cell, it’s capable of so many different things but studying them at the single-cell level allows us to map all of these different things onto the same cell,” the Indian American researcher added.

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