Our researchers are using their knowledge of the immune system to develop immunotherapies for cancer and immune disorders.
Our researchers are:
Your immune system plays a vital role in protecting you from harmful organisms and substances. It can fight off bacteria and viruses that invade your body, and also destroy cancer cells that arise within your body.
Unfortunately, however, cancer cells often find ways to stop your immune system from eliminating them.
Immunotherapy can help boost the body’s immune system, enabling it to successfully fight off cancer cells. This type of immunotherapy – known as cancer immunotherapy – has been hailed as one of the biggest breakthroughs in cancer treatment in a generation.
In other cases, an overactive immune system can cause disease. Some people have an immune system that inappropriately responds to harmless substances such as gluten in food. This triggers immune illnesses such as coeliac disease.
In these cases, immunotherapy aims to specifically dampen or suppress these abnormal immune responses to treat the underlying cause of disease and reduce symptoms.
Our researchers are working on an innovative form of immunotherapy that harnesses the body’s own immune cells to kill cancer cells.
Called CAR-T cell therapy, this treatment involves isolating a patient’s immune cells, engineering them to become ‘super killer cells’ and then reinfusing them into the patient to fight their cancer.
This technique has been successfully used to treat blood cancers but has had mixed results in solid tumours.
Our researchers are studying the biological factors contributing to the success and side effects of CAR-T cells. This work will help inform a better design and safer delivery methods.
Brain cancer is a particular focus for this work, with our researchers are aiming to find an optimum design for CAR-T cell therapy that can kill brain tumour cells with limited side effects.
Immune checkpoints are the brakes of the immune system, allowing immune responses to be switched off after a threat – such as a virus infection – is over. Without these brakes, uncontrolled immune responses can cause inflammatory tissue damage and autoimmune disease.
However, some cancer cells take advantage of these brakes, using them to switch off immune cells that would otherwise destroy the tumours.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors release the brakes, enabling immune cells to attack tumours.
Some of the most exciting new cancer therapies are known as anti-PD1 and anti-CTLA4 immunotherapies. Our researchers are studying these immunotherapies in several preclinical models of cancer, including lung, stomach and breast cancer.
This research could help to identify patients who may benefit from these immunotherapies and lead to future clinical trials aimed at improving patient outcomes.
Natural killer cells are part of the body’s first line of defence against infections and cancer.
Our researchers are studying how natural killer cells fight cancer, with the aim of harnessing these cells to specifically detect and destroy the disease.
They have discovered a protein – called CIS – that acts as a brake to dampen natural killer cell activity. Blocking CIS increases anti-tumour activity and reduces melanoma growth in preclinical models.
Our researchers are now partnering with a drug company to develop inhibitors of CIS that may ultimately help patients fight cancer with their own immune system.
Immunotherapy can be used to dampen down harmful immune responses, for example in:
Our researchers are performing a clinical trial pairing the diabetes immunotherapy with an immunosuppressive agent to test if the combination will slow the progression of type 1 diabetes.