Sarene graduated in Biological Sciences (First class honours) from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2007. She was then awarded the A*STAR Graduate Scholarship (Overseas) in 2008 to pursue a PhD at Karolinska Institutet (KI). She trained under the supervision of Professor Matti Sällberg and Professor Antonio Bertoletti, where she worked on developing immune therapeutic strategy for treating chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. Sarene obtained her PhD in Medical Science from KI in 2013, and she is currently a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Professor Antonio Bertoletti at the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences.
HBV infection is a preferential "Asian affair"; of the 350 million people suffering from chronic HBV infection worldwide, approximately 75% are in Asia and approximately one million people die yearly from HBV-associated liver diseases.
After years of exposure to HBV antigens, HBV-specific T cells are functionally exhausted or deleted in chronic patients. We are therefore particularly interested to develop immune based therapies to reconstitute HBV-specific immunity in patients who are chronically infected or to target tumors expressing HBV antigens in patients with HBV-related hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). One approach is to genetically modify T cells by T cell receptor (TCR) gene transfer to generate new T cell responses that may supplement the deleted or functionally deficient HBV-specific T cells. HBV-specific TCRs are cloned from T cells obtained from individuals with acute resolved HBV infection (that is likely to be associated with protection) and TCRs of known specificities are transferred to T cells from patients using retroviral transduction or messenger RNA (mRNA) electroporation. The functionality of TCR gene modified T cells has been validated in vitro and in vivo in a HCC xenograft mouse model. We are now working to translate the use of TCR gene modified T cells to the clinic for treatment of chronic HBV and HBV-related HCC patients.
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