Emma Thompson is a PhD candidate in Professor Claudine Bonder’s Vascular Biology & Cell Trafficking Laboratory at UniSA’s Centre for Cancer Biology. Emma’s research is focused on testing Carina Biotech’s LGR5-targeting CAR-T cells, which we aim to take into the clinic in the next 12-18 months.

We asked her a few questions…

Tell us a bit about your project…
My project with Carina mainly focuses on performing cell-based assays to complement the work that we do in animal models. The main techniques I use provide real-time and directly comparable answers to how effective various CAR-T cells are at killing cancer cells. This data is assisting Carina with key decisions over which CAR-T construct will be the lead candidate they hope to move forward into clinical trials.

What is the Maestro?
One super interesting piece of technology I have access to is the Axion Maestro Z system. This system uses specialised plates with gold electrodes to monitor the health of cancer cells by measuring electrical impedance. Electrical impedance occurs when the cancer cells grow over the gold electrode and prevent the transmission of an electrical signal through the machine.

When the CAR-T cells are added to the experiment and start to kill the cancer cells, the cancer cells contract and then lift off the electrode, allowing the electrical signal to be detected again. This provides real-time (minute to minute) data about the effectiveness of CAR-T cells to kill cancer cells. The machine also has environment controls so the experiment can be run for multiple days, providing information about whether the cancer cells are able to rebound or if the CAR-T cells have a persistent effect.

I am currently using this assay to test the ability of Carina’s LRG5 CAR-T cells to kill colorectal cancer cells with different levels of LRG5 expression. I am extending this work to neuroblastoma, ovarian and pancreatic cancer cells.

Where do you hope to go in your science career?
I see my career in science as an evolving question. I am currently in the later stages of completing my PhD studies and so upon completion I know that new opportunities will arise. I am really enjoying my role within Carina where I can see the interaction and collaboration of basic research with biotechnology companies. During my studies I have also been able to take some short courses on science public policy and see moving into this sector as a future goal.

What would you say to young scientists wanting to get into science and research?
My advice for a young scientist is to find a specific area or topic of science that excites you. Science is a very dynamic, mentally engaging career and it requires a lot of self-motivation and drive to succeed. So, finding an area of research you find interesting will help guide you, motivate you and keep you moving forward.