Itzury Valenzuela
Itzury Valenzuela
Helios Scholar
School: University of Arizona
Hometown: El Mirage, Arizona
Mentor: Candice Wike, PhD
PI: Stephanie Pond, PhD 

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Optimizing targeted T-cell therapy for cancer patients

During cancer progression, T-cell activation plays a crucial role in the immune response. The immune system engages cancer cells by identifying foreign tumor peptides that bind to MHC-coded receptors on T-cells. When T-cells recognize these peptides in the MHC protein complex, they become active and trigger apoptosis in cancer cells. However, continuous signaling leads to T-cell exhaustion and deactivation, hindering the immune system's ability to combat tumor growth.


TGen labs are researching methods to investigate specific peptide-MHC combinations that can reactivate exhausted T-cells. My Helios project’s goal is to develop quality control assays for critical components of these new methods, ensuring their activity and diversity.


Using a viral titer and plaque assay, we confirmed the activity of four in-house replicates and a positive control library. Furthermore, utilizing sequencing methods, we characterized the quality of the reagents. Ultimately, we have set standards for the activity and diversity of this protocol, increasing the translational power of TGen’s studies in personalized immunotherapy.