immunoSEQ Blog

Researcher Spotlight: Cassian Yee

Dr. Cassian Yee

Cassian Yee, MD, is professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a member in the Clinical Research Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. His research has won various awards including:

  • the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award and Clinical Scientist Award in Translational Research
  • the Cancer Research Institute Investigator Award
  • the Cancer Research Institute Melanoma Initiative Clinical Trials Grant
  • the Melanoma Research Alliance Team Science Award, and the Damon Runyon Walter Winchell (Eli Lilly) Clinical Investigator Award

His research was among the first to show that adoptive T-cell therapy holds great promise for treating melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer.

Outside the lab:
I like to ski. Nothing serious. Just enough to make it through the trees with my son and daughter. I also like to play chess with my son. And, of course, I’ve now learned how to face defeat at a younger man’s hand.

Last good movie:
I saw The Adventures of Tintin with my son and daughter. What I like about going to a movie is that you have no idea when you’re working in the lab how creative the human mind is outside of science. Watching a movie can give you a great chance to escape.

Science, in some ways, is like an interesting movie. You have to tell a good story. However, you can’t direct science. Science directs you. And sometimes it doesn’t take you where you want to go, so you just have to go with it and see where it’s headed.

What’s your focus?

My work involves identifying and isolating T cells in the body that are tumor-specific – mainly melanomas. Once isolated, we can take them out of the body, grow several billions of them in vitro, then reintroduce them back into the body to help the patient fight the tumor. It’s like we’re giving the patient a booster shot of his or her own cancer-fighting T cells.

In many ways this is personalized cell therapy since each individual produces unique T cells to fight specific tumors and we’re expanding those cells and giving them back to the patient to fight the tumor.

How are you using immunoSEQ in your research?

We’re using immunoSEQ to track the T cells in the blood to determine how abundant they are or remain at the tumor site over specific time periods. We can see if they’re persisting.

While there are many different ways to do this, the immunoSEQ approach offers the most advanced, efficient method for tracking several T-cell populations at the same time. Further, immunoSEQ offers the ability to detect even rare T cells at a high level of sensitivity.

Previously, we would have had to sequence every single clone, which would have been impossible. Today with immunoSEQ, we can get a single shot of the entire repertoire at once.

So what did you think?

A clear benefit to working with Adaptive is the support. We’re working with PhD-trained immunology experts who can help find solutions and assist in interpreting data.

For example, we needed to determine the best approach to match up clones in the infusion with those in the peripheral blood of patients after adoptive therapy. The Adaptive consultants created custom graphs to illustrate the fate of clones over time.

I guess that’s one of the benefits of being an early adopter of the technology.

Biggest surprise?

The application has really exploded.

Personally, I felt from the start this would be important in the long run. But it has really gotten a lot of people’s attention quickly.

This technology is introducing a more standardized approach to the research.

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