In 2019, Tackle Kids Cancer began funding its first lab research. The research, being conducted by Johannes Zakrzewski, M.D., PhD, is examining a new approach to using immunotherapy to fight cancer in children.
All of Dr. Zakrzewski’s work is being done at the Hackensack Meridian Health’s Center for Discovery and Innovation, a transformative research facility located in Nutley, New Jersey.
Dr. Zakrzewski’s research asks, “How can we enhance our immune system to combat cancer?” Specifically, he is investigating novel strategies for cancer immunotherapy by exploring the capacity of the thymus to generate genetically modified T cells and employing the advances in gene therapy.
Children have a gland call the thymus, which decreases its function as children mature, and is the center where T cells mature. T cells are critical to the adaptive immune system and how the body adapts specifically to foreign invaders. Dr. Zakrzewski is investigating harnessing the power of the T cell so a child’s own immune system can fight his/her cancer.
Currently, he foresees his research most impacting children with leukemia or B Cell lymphoma. He is investigating injecting cells into the thymus which would target the cancer cells. Once infused in the thymus, the cells would live forever and provide a type of maintenance after upfront treatment. One injection would provide a long lasting effect.
There are no toxicities in the injection, so the treatment would not have severe side effects.
Dr. Zakrzewski is grateful to Tackle Kids Cancer for its support of his research. “It is difficult to get funding for the initial research we need to develop preliminary data for a new treatment or protocol. Philanthropy is essential to help us move the research forward.”
As Dr. Zakrzweski’s research develops, he is hoping to open a clinical trial at the Children’s Cancer Institute. “Having the relationship between the Center for Discovery and Innovation and the Children’s Cancer Institute allows us to develop true bench to bedside protocols that will help critically ill children sooner.”
Dr. Zakrzweski serves as an Associate Member of the Center for Discovery and Innovation and a Pediatric Stem Cell Transplant Attending Physician at Hackensack University Medical Center. He is board-certified in Pediatrics and Pediatric Hematology/Oncology.