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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

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