The unique combination of our cancer research programmes have the potential to launch a new era in cancer treatment. Our scientific discoveries and drug developments are at the forefront of cancer cell biology and immune-oncology.
Two pillars of research to understand and target cancer
Understanding mitochondrial genome movement between cells
Our Cancer Cell Biology group is investigating intercellular transfer of mitochondria in tumour models, and in bone marrow transplantation in mouse models and in human patients.
Following on from our earlier research with breast cancer and melanoma cells lacking mitochondrial DNA, where acquisition of mitochondria was required for tumour formation and metastasis, mitochondrial transfer is now being investigated in a highly treatment-resistant type of brain cancer, glioblastoma. Using these models, we have shown that mitochondria are acquired by tumour cells with mitochondrial DNA damage in the skin, in breast tissue and in the brain, indicating that this newly-discovered phenomenon may be a fundamental property of cells in the body.
Another research project uses brain cancer cells and normal brain cells that have been injured by chemotherapeutic drugs or radiation to explore whether exposure to other cells improves their recovery after injury – and whether mitochondrial transfer is involved in the recovery.
This research has important implications for treatment resistance in cancer, for neurodegenerative diseases and ageing, and possibly for normal body function.
Developing cancer immunotherapy treatments
Our Cancer Immunotherapy Programme is developing technologies that stimulate strong immune responses against cancer cells, through better understanding the way the immune system "programmes" immune cells to attack tumours. Our immunotherapy projects focus on T cells, white blood cells that can kill cancer. These cellular therapies use either a patient’s own immune cells and “programme’ them to recognise cancer cells or from synthetic compounds. The aim is to release the body’s brakes and to initiate the immune response against first rare mutation of cancer cells. This approach targets cancer as early as possible in its development.
Checkpoint Inhibitors work using a different mechanism – they prevent cancer cells from turning any anti-cancer T cells off. They act like the body’s brake and block the immune response when it's no longer needed.
One of our cancer immunotherapy projects focus on cutting-edge cellular therapies, called CAR-T cell immunotherapy. In this transfusion-like therapy, some of the patient’s own T cells are modified to express a specific receptor – a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) – in order to redirect them against cancer cells. The approach works differently to vaccines, which aim to boost someone’s own immune response. In CAR-T cell therapy we are directly altering the immune cells themselves to target them.
Translational research and clinical trials in Immuno-oncology promise gentler and more effective treatments to fight cancer.
Our cancer research focuses on two areas.
The Cancer Immunotherapy Programme – investigating methods to harness the immune system by stimulating and promoting particular immune cells to fight cancer.
Led by Professor Ian Hermans.
Our cancer research requires the use of the Hugh Green Cytometry Core and the Keith and Faith Taylor Cancer Research Laboratories.