Researcher Spotlight: Irene Scarfo, PhD

Massachusetts General Hospital

The majority of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies currently being tested in lymphoma, including both therapies that have received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, target CD19 antigen, and rely on a patient’s own T-cells, which must be extracted and modified. Dr. Scarfo’s LRF Postdoctoral Fellowship Grant project seeks to develop a CAR T-cell therapy which targets CD37, an antigen expressed by B- and T-cell lymphomas, as well as using CRISPR gene-editing techniques to create CAR T-cells from healthy human donors rather than patients. As part of this project, Dr. Scarfo and her collaborators will also investigate whether natural killer (NK) immune cells, cells which perform similar functions to T-cells in the immune system, could be an alternative effective
CAR product. “I’m focusing on developing new Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cells to treat Peripheral T-cell lymphomas as my desire is to help those patients for whom current therapies are unsuccessful,” Dr. Scarfo says, “We hypothesize that this novel construct will result in durable antitumor effects. These studies have the potential for direct clinical relevance defining a new therapeutic option for the treatment of T-cell NHL.”

Dr. Scarfo received her PhD from the University of Torino in her native Italy before her current position as a postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital. Having had an interest in science since high school, Dr. Scarfo became interested in T-cell lymphomas during her graduate studies, originally identifying biomarkers and genetic mechanisms in a laboratory setting before moving towards a more translational research focus, helping move laboratory research into the clinical setting. “I believe that research is the foundation to fight incurable diseases. During these last few years I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Maus [her grant sponsor] at the interface of basic science and early phase I trials involving cellular therapy,” she says. “Being directly involved in the development of next-generation therapies gives me inspiration and hope to help patients.”

Dr. Scarfo adds that her LRF funding will be crucial to moving her research forward. “The Foundation’s support is instrumental in carrying out further studies on CAR-37 cells and to advance this new type of therapy from the bench to bedside of lymphoma patients,” she says. “I want to thank LRF and all the donors who make this possible and give us an opportunity to investigate our ideas.”