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December 22, 2023

Aiming for a Future of Cell-based Cancer Therapy Without Complications

Wang Bo

Assistant Professor Wang Bo is from Inner Mongolia, China, and graduated from the clinical medicine program at Nankai University School of Medicine in Tianjin, China. He came to Japan about ten years ago as an international student and has been developing cancer immunotherapy using iPS cells in the Shin Kaneko Laboratory since. He is a promising young researcher who was awarded the CiRA Incentive Award not once but twice.
Destined to join CiRA

During my master's studies in clinical medicine in China, I worked at the Department of Oncology of the Chinese People's Liberation Army General Hospital, which has partnerships with our graduate school, while working in a basic research laboratory. My mentor had studied in Japan, so he recommended I follow in his footsteps, leading to my applying for a scholarship from the Japanese government to study in Japan.

Seizing opportunities

The primary cancer treatment at that time was antibody-based therapies (antibodies specifically targeting cancer cells to weaken them), and we were venturing into cell-based therapies (immune cells directed to attack only the tumor cells). Dr. Yamanaka had just won the Nobel Prize, and iPS cells were gaining much attention in Japan. The Kaneko Laboratory was where all my research interests converged: iPS cells, immune cell-based therapy, and cancer therapy. It turns out my mentor’s mentor was a good friend of Dr. Kaneko.

When Dr. Kaneko interviewed me, he said, "I like your ambitions! You are welcome to join our laboratory if you pass the doctoral entrance exam." So, I joined first as a research student and became a graduate student after passing the Kyoto University graduate school entrance examination. I have been a member of the Kaneko Laboratory ever since. Destiny brought me to CiRA, and I was destined to work on this cancer immunotherapy research.

Life in Japan

There was certainly a minor language barrier at the beginning. Living in Japan, naturally, it is difficult to have deep conversations without knowing the language, which makes it impossible to enjoy life and research fully. Fortunately, thanks to the 10 months of Japanese lessons I received as part of the scholarship program, I did not have much difficulty adjusting at all. It was tough to take Japanese lessons while I was also preoccupied with preparations for the entrance exam, but it was all worthwhile.

Outside of research, what is there not to love about Kyoto? I truly enjoy the four seasons here, exploring the city filled with various shrines and temples, enjoying the vast and beautiful nature here, and learning about the deep history encapsulated in this city. I also eat a lot of healthy and delicious food. It has been fantastic living in Kyoto.

The scientific journey ahead

I am using cutting-edge genome editing technology (deleting and inserting targeted DNA sequences) on iPS cells to develop them into immune cells to target cancer cells without any worries about them being rejected by the cancer patient following transplantation(*). Since we are still in the experimental phase, there is still a long way to go before our work can be put to real-world use by patients. We need to do as much as possible to evaluate their safety and efficacy to ensure they are safe and effective for clinical use. It is especially critical for genome-edited cells (because the science behind them is very advanced and still early in development).

As most scientists know from experience, research is a bumpy road filled with various obstacles. However, the cooperative and collaborative nature of CiRA has helped me remove many hurdles by working together with other CiRA members inside and outside of the Kaneko Lab. I feel like there is a fantastic synergy in which I can contribute to others’ work while at the same time always counting on everyone to assist with my research. Everyone here is kind and considerate, always willing to share their expertise and help each other tackle scientific problems.

What makes me happy and motivated when I am doing research? I become extremely excited when I see experimental results as predicted, meaning that my hypotheses were correct. Once, I was analyzing my experimental data after everyone had gone home for the day. I got so excited about the results I kept pacing in the laboratory area.

My research goal going forward is to make it possible to treat any cancer by taking advantage of genome editing technology to enhance tumor antigen recognition (the ability to distinguish between cancer and normal cells) and various functionalities of immune cells derived from genetically modified hypoimmunogenic (by altering features that normally triggers immune reactions) iPS cells. There are various types of immune cells, and the iPS cell-derived T cells I work on alone may be insufficient for treating all cancers. So, I aim to create other types of immune cells from genome-edited iPS cells to expand our repertoire of tools to fight against all kinds of cancers.

Another goal I have for my research is to create new treatments for autoimmune diseases (diseases triggered by immune cells mistaking and attacking "self" as "foreign") using immunomodulatory cells generated from hypoimmunogenic iPS cells.

Aside from research, I am also focusing on educating students as an assistant professor and training the next generation of scientists. In the future, I would like to further challenge myself by becoming an independent principal investigator and operating my own laboratory to undertake a unique research program that I can call my own.

(Interviewed and written by Yumi Tsubokura, Technical Staff, CiRA Hotta Laboratory)
(Translation: Kelvin Hui Ph.D., Research Promoting Office, CiRA)

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