Cancer > Researcher Spotlight: Claudia Manriquez Roman, Ph.D., M.S.

Researcher Spotlight: Claudia Manriquez Roman, Ph.D., M.S.

By Christine Tully

RESEARCHERS AT MAYO CLINIC are working to unravel the complexities of cancer to discover ground-breaking therapies that give patients hope for the future.

Claudia Manriquez Roman graduated with her Ph.D. in virology and gene therapy and regenerative sciences from Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in May 2023, after working under mentor Saad Kenderian, M.B., Ch.B., a hematologist and oncologist who specializes in immunology and immunotherapies. Her thesis project was primarily centered on the development and optimization of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy, a cutting-edge immunotherapy that modifies a patient’s own immune system to target and destroy cancer cells. Her key focus was understanding the activation of CAR-T cells when encountering tumor cells and mitigating CAR-T cell death.

“It’s important for me to do meaningful work that is actually helping people who have cancer,” Dr. Manriquez Roman says.

Dr. Manriquez Roman’s studies revealed significant findings. She discovered that reducing the presence of a specific cytokine, an inflammatory molecule that’s present in patients who experience CAR-T cell-associated toxicities, resulted in CAR-T cells that are less prone to cell death. She also found similar results in depleting a specific receptor involved in the pathway that leads to cell death. Her research has opened the door to explore new approaches to improve the therapeutic efficacy of CAR-T cells in both blood cancers and solid tumors.

“These results provide opportunities to use secondary strategies for patients who have already relapsed or whose therapies are not working for them,” Dr. Manriquez Roman says. “The results we presented in my thesis lay the foundation in how we can better understand and modify these CAR-T cells so they can work better for patients.”

Dr. Manriquez Roman is now a scientist in the Center for Regenerative Biotherapeutics at Mayo Clinic, with the goal of fully translating CAR-T cell products into therapies that can be tested in clinical trials and eventually become new treatments for patients.

“Students and researchers like Claudia are essential,” says Dr. Kenderian. “These skills of engineering, making and testing CAR-T cells from the lab to clinical trials are hard to acquire. This is how we train the next generation of physicians, scientists and physician-scientists so we can continue to make novel therapies for patients.”