Neuroblastoma is a common form of childhood cancer. Almost half of children with high-risk neuroblastoma do not survive their disease, despite the current aggressive treatment guidelines including chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Immunotherapy is a promising new cancer treatment, that uses immune cells to fight tumors. Particularly immunotherapy with CAR-T cells, immune cells which have been specifically designed to recognize and kill tumor cells, is considered a promising treatment option for neuroblastoma. However, the results of clinical studies with CAR-T cells in children with neuroblastoma have so far been disappointing. An important reason for this is the ability of neuroblastoma cells to block CAR‐T cells.
In the Molenaar group, Wienke focuses on developing novel immunotherapies for neuroblastoma. She will use the NWO Veni grant to investigate how neuroblastoma can block CAR-T cells. Wienke then aims to create new CAR-T cells that don’t respond to this inhibition. Her goal is to offer a new, improved treatment for children with neuroblastoma.
‘I feel very honored to be awarded the Veni,’ says Wienke. ‘This grant gives an important boost to my research on immunotherapies for neuroblastoma. By overcoming neuroblastoma cells’ ability to incapacitate CAR-T cells, we can ‘release the beast’ of this form of immunotherapy. With the Veni, I hope to make my vision come true, to make CAR-T cell therapy successful for children with neuroblastoma and improve their survival.’