Spring 2022

Better cancer therapies, faster than ever before

New lab equipment is accelerating researchers’ progress toward making cancer immunotherapies available to more patients


Directing a person’s own immune system to fight off cancer once seemed like only a distant hope. But today at the University of Minnesota, there’s a new piece of equipment that’s accelerating researchers’ progress toward making such immunotherapies available to patients of all ages.

The Helios Mass Cytometer at the U’s Institute for Cell, Gene, and Immunotherapy (ICGI) sounds like the stuff of science fiction. Specialized software generates a mind-boggling amount of high-quality, comprehensive data to swiftly inform researchers about which cancer therapies are working, which aren’t, and why.

“Therapeutic breakthroughs are almost always driven by new technologies.”
John E. Wagner, M.D., founding director of the ICGI

In short, what used to take weeks now takes just one or two days. Helios is quickening the pace of bringing new immunotherapies from the lab to the cancer clinic, where they will improve patients’ lives, says Martin Felices, Ph.D., codirector of the Translational Therapy Laboratory at the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

“We’re using this extremely powerful, leading-edge tool to push forward brand-new immunotherapies and to understand how they work,” he says. “We’re going to leverage that information to change our therapies, optimize our therapies, and move forward faster.”

Funded with a gift from Fritz and Glenda Corrigan, this sophisticated machine—about the size and shape of a large office copier—was installed last spring. Since then, it’s been ramped up for use in numerous studies, many involving posttransplant evaluations that compare samples from blood and marrow transplant recipients in remission with those facing persistent disease. 

“Therapeutic breakthroughs are almost always driven by new technologies,” says John E. Wagner, M.D., founding director of the ICGI, a blood and marrow transplant physician at M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital, and holder of the Children’s Cancer Research Fund/Hageboeck Family Chair in Childhood Cancer Research. “Investing in the Helios Mass Cytometer is unlocking the door to a healthier future. Until every patient is cured, our job isn’t done.”