Promising CAR T-cell Therapy for Ependymoma Funded by Swim Across America-Boston Launches Phase I Study

With early funding from Swim Across America-Boston, Dr. Bryan Choi’s research on tandem CAR T-cell therapy for ependymoma has been approved for a Phase I trial. The first human patient will be infused at the end of April 2023. 

Dr. Choi, a neurosurgeon and neuro-oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, presented an overview of his research path in an exclusive briefing to Swim Across America participants on Friday, April 14, 2023. He explained that he is particularly interested in finding nonsurgical, nonconventional means of treating solid tumor cancers like ependymoma, an aggressive solid tumor brain cancer that occurs most often in young children. 

CAR T-cell therapy, a type of gene therapy that engineers a patient’s own T-cells (a type of white blood cells) to identify and attack cancer cells by way of their antigen markers, has shown promise in the treatment of blood cancers. The research team created dual antigen-targeting tandem CAR T (TanCART) cells to target heterogeneous solid tumors. Dr. Choi’s research shows that this type of therapy can also be manipulated to treat solid tumors like ependymoma. 

At the suggestion of Dr. Howard Weinstein, Unit Chief of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Mass General for Children and long-time Swim Across America partner, Dr. Choi applied for a Swim Across America research grant through the internal competitive bid program at Mass General for Children. 

Through Dr. Choi’s research, CAR T-cell therapy is now showing promise in treating solid tumor cancers like ependymoma – so much promise that it has been approved for a Phase I trial in human patients. 

Without the Swim Across America grant, Dr. Choi said, his research likely would have remained unfunded, and neither the FDA approval nor the Phase I Study approval, which is funded by industry investors, would have been possible.

Janel Jorgensen McArdle, Chief Operating Officer of Swim Across America, pointed out that Dr. Choi’s research falls in the “sweet spot” of the high risk, high reward research that Swim Across America is pursuing. “This promising research aligned perfectly with the opportunities that Swim Across America seeks to support. We are so excited that SAA funding could help accelerate it to patient trials.”

After his highly informative presentation, Dr. Choi and his lab colleagues gave us a private tour of their existing lab spaces, as well as their new expanded lab, which is in the finishing stages of build-out. 

It was an exciting visit for Swim Across America news and for all of the Swim Across America-Boston and Nantucket supporters who were present!

Swim Across America visitors: Michele Fox, Patty Gienke, Bob Hackett, Liam Hackett, Steven Laduzinski, Jamie Mannion, Janel Jorgensen McArdle, Alex Meyer, Rick Osterberg, Shep Perkins, Jill Roethke, Mike Ryan, Jessica Stokes, Kitty Tetreault.

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