Dr. Melissa Berrien-Elliott joined the Department of Medicine in the Division of Oncology as an Instructor on August 1, 2019.
Dr. Elliott’s research uses translational approaches to understand how natural killer (NK) cells are impacted by cancer immunotherapies and how the tumor microenvironment contributes to immune evasion. In order to achieve this, she works closely with clinicians at Siteman Cancer Center and St. Louis Children’s Hospital assessing clinical samples from patients enrolled in clinical trials. The ultimate goal of her research is to use these underlying mechanistic insights to develop novel treatments for cancer patients.
Recent work has identified that NK cells display enhanced functionality after brief cytokine activation. These cytokine-induced memory-like (ML) NK cells are safe in patients with relapsed or refractory AML. There are a number of ongoing clinical trials testing the efficacy of these cells in adult and pediatric patients with hematologic malignancies. Using mass cytometry allows monitoring of the functionality and longevity of these cells after they’re transferred into patients. Using this powerful single-cell technology, the team has identified novel checkpoints that limit the efficacy of these transferred cells. Ongoing studies are using antibody blockade therapy in pre-clinical models to develop the clinical rationale for combining ML NK cells with checkpoint blockade therapy.
The team is currently developing strategies combining these function-enabled ML NK cells with various tumor-targeting strategies, such as chimeric-antigen receptors and tumor-targeting antibodies. The goal of these combination approaches is to be able to treat a wider variety of tumors with ML NK cell adoptive therapies, including solid tumors.