7 August 2017
In the quest for treating a disease as diverse as cancer, multiple approaches are explored in our cancer research programmes.
Ellie-May Jarvis is one of the few people in New Zealand undertaking a combined medical degree and PhD and she was drawn to The Malaghan Institute’s reputation for high-class research. Along with other members of the Cancer Immunotherapy Programme, she studies a group of cells crucial to our immune response but largely overlooked by cancer research – innate-like T cells.
Most T cells in our body respond only to a specific antigen or signal. Innate-like T cells make up a large proportion of our immune cells, sometimes up to 10%, and can be stimulated by several signals. This means we have a huge cell population able to be activated simultaneously and produce a strong immune response. Ellie-May works with both clinicians and scientists to profile the function of these cells in cancer patients and develop treatments that trigger an immune response against the disease. “The smartest way to progress something into a real treatment is to know as much as we can,” she explained.
To examine cell function, Ellie-May applies a variety of technologies available at The Institute, from flow cytometry to cytokine bead arrays. “If cells from a cancer patient show decreased innate-like T cell function, we could potentially tailor our immunotherapy to correct that,” she summarized. “If we saw no function or cells remaining, that could be an indication to take another approach.”
Research projects like Ellie-May’s build on the potential for precision medicines. By identifying how specific cancers affect innate-like T cell populations, treatments could be devised to work in conjunction with other immunotherapies currently in clinical trials.