Leonid Metelitsa, MD, PhD

Professor of Pediatrics and Immunology
Baylor College of Medicine


Dr. Leonid Metelitsa is a Professor at Baylor College of Medicine. His research is focused on understanding the role of Natural Killer T (NKT) cells in tumor immunity and developing NKT cell-based cancer immunotherapy. Metelitsa and his colleagues at the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy developed original technologies for NKT cell isolation, genetic modification with chimeric antigen receptors (CAR), and expansion to clinical scale. The first clinical trial of CAR-NKT cells is currently ongoing in children with neuroblastoma at Texas Children’s Hospital while other NKT cell-based therapeutics are at different stages of pre-clinical development.


Harnessing Natural and Engineered Properties of NKT cells for Adoptive Cancer Immunotherapy

NKT cells are attractive carriers of chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) due to their inherent antitumor properties and preferential localization to tumor sites. Unlike conventional T cells, NKT cells are non-alloreactive and could be used as off-the-shelf therapies without the risk for graft-versus-host disease. However, low frequency of NKT cells in human peripheral blood presents a fundamental challenge for clinical development of NKT cell-based therapeutics. To address this limitation, we have developed the current good manufacturing practice (cGMP) protocol for rapid generation of large numbers of NKT and CAR-NKT cells from leukapheresis products. This technology has enabled the initiation of first-in-human CAR-NKT clinical trial in children with neuroblastoma.

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