It was all over the news, a potential breakthrough in immunotherapy thanks to a study carried out by two of Hospital 57357’s researchers, one that would enable promising results in this field, especially in the case of brain tumors. The study which was published on Sept.5th, 2018 in the prestigious international scientific journal Nature , is a collaborative project with Baylor University and Texas Children’s. The two researchers are Nabil Ahmed, MD, MPH, a physician scientist at Texas Children’s Hospital, advisor to 57357’s CEO on Research, and pharmacist and master degree holder in gene therapy from UCL, researcher Heba Samaha
Dr. Heba Samaha among 57357’s basic research team
I had already met Professor Ahmed Nabil on several occasions in 57357, most recently at the first ever immunotherapy symposium in Egypt at the hospital in 2017, an event which he himself had coordinated. Back then, he shared with me his excitement about a research study he was involved in with a young, bright enthusiastic researcher he had recruited to work in his lab in the U.S. but he abstained to tell me more about the study before it would be completed……
So who is this young talented researcher, Heba Samaha? I was curious to meet with her upon her arrival from the U.S., where she had lived for more than two years until the successful publication of her work. I was surprised to see a frail, angelic, humble yet determined young woman whose little eyes lit as she talked passionately about her work.
M: Can you tell me – in layman terms – what your study is all about and what it’s going to accomplish?
H: Very simply, we have been able to develop a molecule that targets the delivery of T cells to brain cancer. Successful T cell immunotherapy for brain cancer requires that the T cells can access tumour tissues, this molecule is stuck on the T cell and enables it to break through the blood brain barrier The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is a highly selective border that separates the circulating blood from the brain. Hence, with this molecule, the delivery of modified immune cells to the brain would be straightforwardly carried out through re-injecting them to the patient.
There are several types of cell therapies including the CAR T-cell therapy, one form of which has been recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug administration to be used in treating children afflicted with resistant acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Because of the remarkable responses cellular therapies have produced with certain types of Leukemia in some patients-both children and adults for whom all other treatments had stopped working- researchers have embarked on exploring whether they could ever be effective in solid tumors. With this study, and its promising findings still on mice, we could have in the near future a breakthrough in the treatment of brain cancer in children which is the second most common type of cancer in children.
Dr. Heba Samaha receiving cheers and congratulations from Hospital 57357’s CEO
M: Where have you received your education and training?
H: I am a pharmacist. I graduated from the German University in Cairo. I completed my Masters degree in gene therapy in UCL London. When I returned in 2014, I joined 57357 as a member of the clinical pharmacy team . Thanks to the farsightedness of the hospital CEO Dr. Sherif Abu El Naga, I was given the opportunity to work with Dr. Shahenda, head of Basic research in 57357, on a cancer biology research project which we successfully published in 2016’
M: What are your plans for the future?
H: I am looking forward to the future application of immunotherapy or cellular therapies by 57357 and its potential manufacturing of CAR T cells as this is the field I wish to be involved in. I am also looking forward to getting my PHD degree.
Heba Samaha and I left each other on a high note, full of hope and optimism for the future of research in 57357.
Seeing the name of our Hospital on the top list of the most prestigious institutions in the US, which collaborated in this research, such as, Baylor University, Texas Children’s Hospital, and Harvard University filled us with pride and encouragement.
Cellular therapies are designed to harness the immune system’s ability to fight cancer. This kind of therapy involves collecting a specific group of immune cells from the blood, modifying them to produce a more forceful attack on a patient’s cancer cells, and then re- injecting or re -transferring them into the patient. Cellular therapies or immunotherapy are the latest breakthrough in cancer therapy over the last several years