Forerunner in the development of cancer immunotherapy

Forerunner in the development of cancer immunotherapy

Maria Themeli is a CCA Fellow-Assistant Professor at VUmc Cancer Center Amsterdam.

The young Greek researcher is a forerunner in the development of cancer immunotherapy. In 2017, she was selected as “Woman of the year” in Netherlands for her groundbreaking research. Viva400 is a list, organised by the weekly women’s magazine, Viva. It is a list for young, successful and inspirational women. Themeli won at the category “Clever Heads”.

She was born and raised in Patras, Greece. She graduated first from the Medical School of the University of Patras and then completed a PhD in the field of haematopoietic cell transplantation, supervised by Professor Alexandros Spyridonidis.

At the beginning of her career she wanted to gain more insight into the role of the immune system in the treatment of cancer. Before joinining VUmc Amsterdam, she was at the prestigious Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Dr. Themeli studied cancer-fighting T cells, which may be genetically targeted or otherwise modified to augment their potency and persistence. During her fellowship, she worked to further improve the therapeutic properties of the stem cell-derived T cells and use stem cells as a model system to further investigate the basic biology underlying the derivations of T cells from stem cells. She completed her postdoctoral studies at MSKCC in Dr. Michel Sadelain’s lab.

Because patient immune cells (important in immunotherapy) are sometimes difficult to obtain in sufficient quantities, they developed a method in the laboratory to generate these cancer-fighting cells using pluripotent stem cells as a source. She has obtained the patent rights and, among other things, received the Druckenmiller Fellowship from the New York Stamcell Foundation. Maria Themeli is therefore a pioneer in the field of immunotherapy for the treatment of cancer.

In 2017 she started her own research group at VUmc within the Hematology department, with the support of the KWF and personal grants from the European Union (a Marie-Curie Fellowship) and the CCA Foundation. The aim of the group is to develop advanced immunotherapy for patients with malignant blood diseases and other forms of cancer as an effective, accessible weapon against cancer.