Maria Pia Morelli, MD, PhD, on Adapting ctDNA and MRD Negativity Into Solid Tumor Cell Therapy Research


The assistant professor at MD Anderson Cancer Center discussed a trial she is leading at MD Anderson with NK cells and cetuximab in colorectal cancer.

“This is a fascinating concept because we really want to understand if a tumor that is not as heavy, that is not as established with an old tumor microenvironment... especially in colorectal cancer, the tumor microenvironment is cold and can inactivate the immune system. So, with this approach, we hope that the inhibitory tumor microenvironment is not established yet, because it's still at an early stage of disease. At the same time, we're giving the patient immune cells that are healthy and never pre-exposed to cancer, never having received those inhibitory messages, and have been prepared in the lab to have that aggressiveness of attacking, recognizing, and killing the cancer cells.”

Solid tumors have acted as barriers to the use of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy for use in solid tumors, and CAR T-cell therapy remains mostly relegated to its only approved use in oncology, hematological malignancies. Steam is picking up in research and investigations into CAR T and other types of cell therapy to address some of the challenges with solid tumors, including heterogeneity within tumors, immunosuppression within the tumor microenvironment, and more specialized considerations pertaining to the type of cancer.

CGTLive spoke with Maria Pia Morelli, MD, PhD, assistant professor, department of gastrointestinal (GI) medical oncology, division of cancer medicine, MD Anderson Cancer Center, The University of Texas, to learn more about research that she is working on with cell therapy in solid tumors, particularly GI cancers. She shared that research with solid tumors has started to use circulating tumor DNA and minimal residual disease, markers that originated and are mainly used within the fields of hematological malignancies, as markers within solid tumor research. She also discussed a trial she is leading at MD Anderson that uses natural killer cells with cetuximab in earlier stages of colorectal cancer.

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