Immune clues could combat chronic infections and cancer

Immune clues could combat chronic infections and cancer

Illuminate newsletter, March 2018
March 2018

Professor Axel Kallies
Professor Axel Kallies has found critical immune clues
that could help the body fight chronic infections and cancer.

Critical clues within the immune system could be used to help the body mount a sustained and successful fight against chronic infections and cancer.

Institute researchers discovered high levels of multiple ‘regulator’ proteins disabled infection-fighting killer immune (CD8) T cells, stopping them from responding to persistent threats caused by chronic infections or cancer.

Professor Axel Kallies, Dr Kevin Man and Dr Sarah Gabriel led the research, published in Immunity.

Renew and empower

Professor Kallies said understanding the complex molecular programs underpinning T-cell responses was important for developing new ways to 'reboot' the immune system to fight chronic infections and cancers.

“We found the transcription factor IRF4 was a critical molecule,” he said.

“The more IRF4 was present, the more vulnerable immune T cells were to ‘exhaustion’, making them ineffective against chronic infections.

"However when there was less IRF4, we found large reservoirs of so called ‘memory’ T cells developed, which help to renew and empower T cells to continue the fight.”

A powerful model for cancer

Professor Kallies, who is now at the Peter Doherty Institute, said chronic infection was a very powerful model for understanding T-cell responses to tumours.

“We have an ongoing collaboration with clinician-scientists at Peter Mac to test whether the presence of memory cells within tumours correlated with how well the tumour responded to the immunotherapy.

“The clues we have found could play an instrumental role in improving the outcome of immunotherapy treatments,” he said.

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