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Headshot of Catherine Cheng.
Catherine Cheng.

After getting her start at UNC Lineberger in 2016, Catherine Cheng, CCRP, helped launch the first phase of the cellular therapy program’s research protocols.

Now serving as the cellular therapy lead, she continues her career in cancer research but recalls her very first job at Rex Hospital and how she’s assembled a meaningful professional path helping cancer patients.

Here’s a few minutes with Catherine Cheng.

Tell us about your journey to this point in your career

I have been in clinical research for 13 years now. I started my research career at Duke University, where I gained experience in different clinical trial patient populations varying from trials with healthy volunteers to critically ill patients undergoing cardiothoracic surgery or with severe sepsis.

I then spent a year in the Pacific Northwest, working at Seattle Children’s Hospital in pediatric critical care research.

I have been at UNC Lineberger since 2016 when the Cellular Therapy program was in its infancy.


Why did you decide to pursue this career? In particular in cellular therapy for a cancer center?

I have always had a passion for healthcare and working directly with patients, but I did not want to go to medical school. I ultimately pursued clinical research, where I can have that patient interaction and be able to make a small contribution to advancements in medicine. I encountered several pediatric patients undergoing cellular therapy during my time at Seattle Children’s but did not have direct oncology experience before I started in UNC Lineberger.

I moved back to North Carolina at a good time – when UNC Lineberger initiated the cellular therapy program. My previous research experience prepared me to help launch our cellular therapy research protocols. We started with just two trials in our portfolio, and now we have over 20 open trials.


What does your day-to-day look like?

It takes a village to get one patient through the cellular therapy process. In addition to interacting with patients, their caregiver(s) and our providers, we have to coordinate with the patient’s referring physicians, our intake and financial coordinators, our GMP lab for manufacturing, our apheresis and HPC teams, our infusion center, the list goes on!

I also interact daily with our investigators, regulatory, data management and protocol development teams.


How does your position support the overall mission of the cancer center?

I serve as the point of contact for our cellular therapy program and oversee our clinical cellular therapy research team. I am a small piece of the puzzle. Our team takes pride in our work and aims to improve patient outcomes and advance cancer research.


What is your most memorable moment at UNC Lineberger?  

My most memorable (and not too distant) moment is when we treated our first glioblastoma CAR-T patient. It was a such groundbreaking moment.


What was your very first job?

My first job as a teenager was at Cold Stone Creamery. My first job after undergrad was at Rex Hospital Medical and Surgical ICU, where I worked as a patient care technician.


What helps keep you motivated?

Our patients. Clinical trials provide hope for our patients who have limited options. Many of our patients and caregivers travel from far away and the fact that they travel to UNC for our clinical trials says a lot.


Is there a particular memory with a patient or any colleagues that sticks out to you during your time at UNC Lineberger?

If I had to pick one, it was when our patient brought a WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) belt and played the song “Eye of the Tiger” while receiving their CAR-T cell infusion.

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