Scientists at the Centre for Cancer Immunology can pursue innovative ideas for cancer treatments thanks to the generosity of our supporters.
Three new research projects are being supported through the Cancer Immunology Fund, one of which is exclusively funded by a donation from the De Laszlo Foundation.
The funding – known as pump priming – provides vital support to researchers who have early concept ideas that need further investigation before more substantive funding from external sources can be secured. The three new ideas that the scientists are exploring are as follows:
Improving killer T cell function
Killer T cells are part of our immune system and identify cancer cells by detecting specific protein fragments (peptides) on the surface of cancer cells. The numbers of killer T cells at the site of the tumour have been linked with greater survival, however not all killer T cells within the tumour are able to recognise peptides.
The project funded by the De Laszlo Foundation, and led by Dr Emma Reeves, will mimic the T cell interaction with peptide fragments displayed on different types of cells within the tumour and give new insight into how killer T cells recognise cancer cells and whether other cells either help or prevent T cells from doing this.
Improving outcomes for oesophageal cancer patients
Oesophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) is usually found in the lower oesophagus and sadly has a low survival rate. Research has shown that the majority of EAC is preventable through lifestyle changes and more effective screening. Additionally, research has shown that allergy can be protective against developing cancer and specificity for EAC, people with lots of a particular white blood cells called eosinophils, could be protected from developing cancer.
A project led by Dr Matthew Rose-Zerilli will study eosinophil cells in oesophagus tissue to understand how they can be manipulated to attack pre-cancerous cells and how they co-ordinate other immune cells capable of killing cancer. The long-term aim is to then understand how to combine eosinophil function with drugs, which have been shown to protect people from developing EAC.
Enhancing immune checkpoint treatments for Lymphoma
Manipulation of the immune system using checkpoint treatments that “take the brakes off the immune system” has changed the way we treat different types of cancer such as melanoma and renal cancer. Unfortunately, these treatments have yielded disappointing results in several cancers of the lymph nodes (Lymphoma), likely reflecting the status of the immune system in these patients. Certain cells that make up the immune system can either help the Lymphoma grow or inhibit it. One of these cell types, macrophages, are present in large numbers in Lymphoma and influence whether treatments work effectively or not, but we do not know how or why.
Dr Jemma Longley will lead a project to better understand the interaction between macrophages and lymphoma cells. These macrophages can then be manipulated to stop them supporting the Lymphoma and instead help kill the tumour cells to improve the survival of patients with Lymphomas.
Professor Mark Cragg, Chair of the Cancer Immunology Fund Steering Committee, said: “We pride ourselves in fostering a curiosity-driven research culture where novel ideas are encouraged – even the smallest of ideas can spark the biggest breakthroughs. But these projects need support to get started – donations to the Cancer Immunology Fund allow our scientists to push the boundaries of cancer research. We are incredibly grateful for all the support we receive and look forward to sharing the progress of these projects over the next few years.”