Dendritic cells (DC) are a special type of immune cell found in the body’s tissues, such as the skin. They play the role of immune sentinels that alert and then rid the body of ‘foreign’ invaders, including cancers.
DC vaccines involve taking a patient’s own stem cells and generating DCs in the lab. These supercharged DCs with a heightened ability to recognise ‘rogue’ cells are then injected back into a patient, where they can attack cancers more efficiently.
Project lead Associate Professor Shalin Naik said while people have experimented with DC-vaccine therapies for many years, this has involved the ‘wrong’ DCs.
“Dendritic cells come in many flavours, each with a different role,” he said.
“My team recently discovered a novel way to generate hundreds more of the ‘right’ type of DCs that can boost the body’s immune response – known as DC1s – from a patient’s stem cells,” he said.
“The inability to produce enough DCs to be injected back into patients remains a universal barrier that has prevented clinical trials from progressing for cancer patients.
“If successful, our project will lead to the very first DC1 vaccine platform, based on the engineering of human stem cells.
“Given our great track-record of generating DC1s, we are confident we can achieve this goal within the next three years, to help transform the quality of life for many cancer sufferers in Australia and around the world.”
DC1s were discovered at WEHI by pioneering immunologist, Professor Ken Shortman, in 1992.
Assoc Prof Naik and his team have leveraged this crucial discovery to validate a unique set of molecular regulators that can control DC differentiation, enabling them to make DC1s in unprecedented numbers.