Skip to Main Content

Rafet Basar

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Rafet Basar has always been curious about biology. But what has shaped his research career was his experience as a medical student.

“In a rotation on stem cell transplantation, I saw patients suffering from limited treatment options,” Basar, now a postdoctoral fellow at MD Anderson Cancer Center, said. 

Ever since, he has been working to expand what might be possible in cell-based therapies to help not only cancer patients, but also patients with certain autoimmune diseases. 

While cell-based therapies offer hope, they can be difficult for patients to tolerate. Some of them can spur graft-versus-host disease after stem cell transplantation. And newer CAR-T therapies — in which researchers remove immune cells from a patient’s body, engineer them to fight their cancer, and then reinfuse them into patients — can cause toxic side effects.

In lab experiments, Basar modified “natural killer” cells with CAR-T in order to improve outcomes and limit troubling side effects. Now the immune therapy he helped develop has moved into clinical trials with the hope of making an off-the-shelf product. That means something suitable for many patients rather than derived from one patient at a time — and potentially administered in an outpatient setting.

Although trained as a physician, Basar lately has been working exclusively in the lab. But this year, when lessons learned in the lab are now being translated into the clinic, is “more fun.”

—  Elizabeth Cooney