INDIANAPOLIS — A therapy that uses a patient’s own immune system to treat lymphoma has been administered for the first time in the state of Indiana. The use of CAR T-cell therapy was one of several announcements during a Tuesday press briefing on the progress of Indiana University’s $120 million Precision Health Initiative.
“This is a great day for Indiana,” said Anantha Shekhar, IU’s associate vice president for research.
Shekhar is leading the health initiative, the first proposal to receive funding through IU’s Grand Challenges program. Nearly three years ago, IU officials pledged to invest up to $300 million to help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. Interested researchers were asked to submit proposals that would address issues such as energy availability, climate change and infectious diseases.
Shekhar’s team proposed using a holistic approach that considers all the factors influencing a person’s health — from genetics, to environment, to behavior — to create individualized treatments. When Precision Health was introduced as the first recipient of IU’s Grand Challenges funding, Shekhar promised to cure one cancer and one childhood disease, as well as find ways to prevent one chronic illness and one neurodegenerative disease in the next decade. Two years later he told the public what specific illnesses his team is targeting.
Precision Health is working on curative therapies for two cancers, triple negative breast cancer and multiple myeloma. Pediatric sarcoma is the childhood disease, while Type 2 diabetes is the chronic illness and Alzheimer’s is the neurodegenerative disease.
These illnesses were chosen because of IU’s capacity to address them and because of their prevalence. Two of every five Hoosiers will deal with cancer in their lifetimes, and 700,000 have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, Shekhar said.