Researchers at the Centre for Cancer Immunology have shed new light on a key part of the immune system that could pave the way for more targeted treatments in fighting cancer.

Centre for Cancer Immunology
Dr Ali Roghanian

In a study, published in JCI Insight, the Antibody and Vaccine Group has shown a key molecule in the immune system known as LILRB3/ILT5 could be a “checkpoint”, which can be activated (or deactivated) to enable the body to find and destroy cancer.

Checkpoints are important because cancers are able to engage them and become shielded from an immune attack. The study has shown that LILRB3/ILT5 controls myeloid cell function, which is present in cancer-associated activities including immune evasion.

The team created a panel of monoclonal antibodies – cells which mimics the body’s own immune cells – which could either activate or block the receptor’s suppressive activity.

The team used these antibodies in conjunction with a number of experimental systems to show that activating this inhibitory receptor, like cancer cells may, can lead to a reduced immune response and the growth of tumours.

The team, led by Dr Ali Roghanian and Professor Mark Cragg, believe LILRB3/ILT5 could be a potential target for cancer therapies.

Dr Ali Roghanian said: “Immunotherapies are revolutionising cancer treatment but unfortunately only benefit only a minority of patients.

“Myeloid cells are less studied than other immune cells, such as T-cells, but could be equally as important as their presence in tumours is often linked to altered patient survival.”

“Our findings reveal powerful immunosuppresive functions of LILRB3 and identify it as an important myeloid checkpoint receptor whose targeting may have therapeutic potential in patients with cancer and autoimmunity.”

The study was part of an international collaboration involving scientists based at the University of Southampton, MIT in the USA, the University of Cambridge and BioInvent International in Sweden

The article will be also featured by the editors in the JCI This Month highlights.