Funded projects 2018

Improved method for CAR T cell therapy

"We want to make this promising therapeutic procedure safer, more efficient and also more cost-effective."

T cells are a natural part of the immune system. Their ability to specifically recognize and destroy altered cells is used by doctors and scientists for immunotherapeutic cancer therapies. One such immunotherapy uses genetically modified T cells that are able to detect and destroy human cancer cells. To produce these so-called CAR (Chimeric Antigen Receptors) T cells, researchers use established methods of gene therapy. Among other things, this uses modified viruses - called viral vectors - to introduce genes into a human cell. CAR-T cells have already been successfully used to treat certain forms of leukemia and lymphoma. However, some of the methods used to date have been associated with serious side effects. Patrick Schmidt and Richard Harbottle of the NCT Heidelberg and DKFZ are therefore working to further develop the method for CAR-T cell production. "We want to make this promising therapeutic procedure safer, more efficient and also more cost-effective," Harbottle reports. The new vector system the scientists are currently exploring does not use viral components and does not integrate gene sequences into the cell's genome. The new method is being further developed and tested in preclinical tumor models with NCT donations.

E-health offering supports cancer patients

"We provide online-based support for those affected, which improves communication with the treatment team."

Immunotherapies are promising approaches in cancer treatment. Nevertheless, side effects and complications can significantly complicate the daily lives of those affected. To date, no measures exist in routine clinical practice that make it possible to systematically record side effects and concomitant symptoms on the patient side and pass them on to the treatment team. However, studies show that electronically supported symptom recording and its communication to the physician can be beneficial for both patient quality of life and survival. This is where Christina Sauer, Jürgen Krauss and Imad Maatouk come in with their therapy-accompanying e-health offering for patients. "The online offer is aimed at patients who are receiving immunotherapy. We offer those affected personalized support online that takes physical and psychological aspects into account and can thus improve communication with the treatment team," says Krauss. The donations will be used to develop and evaluate the online service.

Cooling gloves to prevent polyneuropathy

"Research into preventive measures for polyneuropathy can significantly improve the quality of life for those affected."

Chemotherapy-induced polyneuropathies are sensitivity disorders that occur mostly in the hands and feet. Their occurrence often leads to dose reduction or early discontinuation of treatment. To date, it has only been possible to prevent polyneuropathy to a limited extent. Isolated research results indicate that cooling and compression of the hands could have a preventive effect. However, due to the limited data available, these findings are not yet sufficient to justify a routine measure for all patients. The donated funds will now be used to investigate the method of cooling and compressing the hands as part of a study with breast cancer patients. In addition, it will be tested whether the method can also prevent therapy-related nail changes. "Research into preventive measures for polyneuropathy can ultimately significantly improve the quality of life for those affected and also increase the likelihood of successful treatment," reports Frederik Marmé, one of the project leaders.

Ethics guideline for treatment planning

"Decisions about therapeutic interventions in the last phase of life have been shown to improve quality of life through advance care planning."

At the end of life, many patients opt for a better quality of life and against further life-prolonging measures. However, there are also people who want maximum therapy, even if a therapeutic success or prognostic benefit must now only be classified as very low. It is therefore important to discuss patients' wishes with them in good time. "Decisions about therapy measures in the last phase of life can demonstrably improve patients' quality of life and relieve relatives by planning treatment in advance," reports Eva Winkler of the NCT Heidelberg. Studies also indicate that a guideline in this situation helps patients to better assess therapy goals and develop a realistic way of coping with the disease. Now, an ethics guideline will support cancer patients, relatives and treatment teams at the NCT to have open discussions early and repeatedly.
With the help of the donations, a handout that Winkler developed with her research group will be adapted and evaluated for the NCT Heidelberg. This has already proven its worth in everyday clinical practice at the University Hospital Großhadern in Munich. "Because an appropriate offer for open discussions at the right time increases the satisfaction of patients, their relatives and the treatment team with the necessary but stressful decisions," says Winkler.