Texas Children's Hospital Inaugurates New Center for Advanced Innate Cell Therapy

Press Release

Dr. Susan Blaney, Director, Texas Children’s Cancer Center and Division Chief, Hematology-Oncology, Baylor College of Medicine and Dr. Leonid Metelitsa, Director, Center for Advanced Innate Cell Therapy gather to inaugurate the new Center for Advanced Innate Cell Therapy.

New center includes state-of-the-art technologies and infrastructure that enable the development of safe and effective therapies for childhood cancer

HOUSTON (Feb. 4, 2022) – Texas Children’s Hospital is pleased to announce the inauguration of its new Center for Advanced Innate Cell Therapy (AICT) within Texas Children's Cancer and Hematology Center. The new center was established with the overarching goal of developing safe and effective therapies for childhood cancer using natural and engineered properties of the immune system.

As Director of the new center, Leonid Metelitsa, M.D., Ph.D., leads a multidisciplinary team of basic, translational, and clinical investigators who work collaboratively on research projects encompassing tumor immunology and immunotherapy, as well as cell and gene therapy. These projects include identifying new molecular targets for cancer therapy in tumor and tumor-supportive cells, studying unconventional immune effector cells that target malignant cells, developing intracellular switches and circuits to regulate cell behavior, and employing state-of-the-art technologies to engineer therapeutic cells that selectively destroy tumor cells while sparing healthy tissues.

"The last decade has brought a series of breakthroughs in cancer immunotherapy, including the development of novel cell-based therapeutics. In particular, cell therapy products that are manufactured from a patient’s own T cells engineered to express a CD19-specific chimeric antigen receptor (CAR-T cells) have been proven safe and effective in children and adults with B cell leukemia and lymphoma," said Dr. Metelitsa, Director of the AICT Center at Texas Children’s Hospital and Professor, Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. "However, patients with solid tumors, representing over 90% of cancer patients, remain largely resistant to CAR-T cell treatment. The main goal of the new center is to go beyond conventional T cells, exploring other types of immune cells with natural antitumor properties. In doing so, we hope to advance the development of effective immunotherapy for currently incurable cancers in children and adults."

The AICT Center includes two founding research teams led by Dr. Metelitsa and Andras Heczey, M.D., whose collaborative efforts focus on studying natural killer T cells (NKTs) and developing NKT-based cancer immunotherapies. Their teams originally demonstrated that human NKTs can be engineered to express CARs (CAR-NKT cells) and expanded to clinical scale, leading to initiation of first-in-human clinical trials evaluating CAR-NKTs in children with neuroblastoma and adults with leukemia and lymphoma. Additionally, Drs. Metelitsa and Heczey are working on a growing pipeline of innovative CAR-NKT therapeutic products for patients with liver tumors, including hepatoblastoma in children and hepatocellular carcinoma in adults.

The AICT Center will continue to develop and test NKT-based therapies and is actively recruiting additional researchers to further explore the therapeutic potential of other immune effectors such as NK cells, gamma/delta T cells, or mucosal invariant T (MAIT) cells. The Center will also work to develop the next generation of artificial immune receptors to overcome the current obstacles for the successful treatment of solid tumors using cellular immunotherapies.

The AICT Center closely collaborates with investigators at Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Cell and Gene Therapy (CAGT) and is fully integrated with the educational missions of Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine, providing training for graduate students, research fellows, and junior faculty.

To learn more about the new research center, please visit www.texaschildrens.org/celltherapy. For more information about Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Center, visit www.texaschildrens.org/cancer.

About Texas Children’s Hospital

Texas Children's Hospital, a not-for-profit health care organization, is committed to creating a healthier future for children and women throughout the global community by leading in patient care, education and research. Consistently ranked as the best children’s hospital in Texas, and among the top in the nation, Texas Children's has garnered widespread recognition for its expertise and breakthroughs in pediatric and women’s health. The hospital includes the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute; the Feigin Tower for Pediatric Research; Texas Children's Pavilion for Women, a comprehensive obstetrics/gynecology facility focusing on high-risk births; Texas Children's Hospital West Campus, a community hospital in suburban West Houston; and Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands, the first hospital devoted to children’s care for communities north of Houston. The organization also created Texas Children's Health Plan, the nation’s first HMO for children; Texas Children's Pediatrics, the largest pediatric primary care network in the country; Texas Children's Urgent Care clinics that specialize in after-hours care tailored specifically for children; and a global health program that’s channeling care to children and women all over the world. Texas Children's Hospital is affiliated with Baylor College of Medicine. For more information, go to www.texaschildrens.org. Get the latest news by visiting the online newsroom and Twitter at twitter.com/texaschildrens.