Dr Rachel Perret is a Team Leader in the Malaghan Institute's Freemasons CAR T-cell Research Programme. Dr Perret studied Microbiology at the University of Otago before doing her PhD in Immunology with Professor Franca Ronchese at the Malaghan Institute. She has spent several years working at the Ludwig Center for Cancer Research at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland and then the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, USA, to complete her postdoctoral training. In January 2020, Dr Perret returned to the Malaghan Institute to join the Freemasons CAR T-cell Research Programme.
My research interests lie in investigating how the immune system can be trained to fight cancer more effectively. I am particularly focused on engineering and redirecting T lymphocytes to recognise cancer cell proteins more effectively, and thus specifically and safely target tumours for destruction. I have worked extensively on the gene-therapy of T-cells using natural T-cell receptor (TCR) genes and I’m excited to adapt and extend that knowledge to working with chimeric antigen receptors (CAR), which are another powerful weapon in the war against cancer.
Our goal in the Freemasons CAR T-cell Research Programme is to build on the work that lead to the NZ-first phase I CAR T-cell clinical trial, currently underway at the Malaghan Institute. We are investigating the different costimulatory signalling pathways that control the internal workings of CAR T-cells. We aim to identify beneficial aspects that we can enhance, and to pinpoint any weaknesses that we can work on fixing. This will allow us to design even better, safer, and more broadly applicable CAR T-cell therapies for both blood cancers and solid tumours.