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How can we boost the immune system to fight ovarian cancer?


Lead researcher: Professor Ahmed Ahmed

Where: Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Oxford

Theme: Treatment

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a new and effective treatment that turns the body’s immune system against cancer. It boosts the body’s immune system, enabling it to recognise and eliminate cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. This contrasts with chemotherapy which cannot tell which cells are cancerous or not meaning healthy cells are also targeted. Damage to healthy cells causes side effects.

New discoveries to boost the immune system

In Ahmed’s project, he will attempt to develop a type of immunotherapy called adoptive T-cell therapy. This therapy uses the patient’s T-cells. T-cells are a part of our immune system and attack foreign molecules including cancer cells, however, cancers are sneaky and can evade or suppress our immune system so the T-cells don’t work well.

In adoptive T-cell therapy, T-cells are taken from the patient and made better to kill cancer cells in the lab, then returned to the patient. To ensure this type of therapy is effective you need to know which T-cells are best at killing cancer cells so Ahmed and his team will study which T-cells are most effective.

Where are we now?

The team have developed vital methods for expanding T-cells outside of the body in the lab and optimised processes to check if T-cells are killing cancer cells (important for finding the most effective T-cells to later give to the patient).

They have successfully created mini versions of organoids called organoids for Fallopian tubes and the tumours themselves. Organoids are important for testing any treatments they develop.

A unique population of T-cells was also discovered, with features they think may give them an advantage against cancer cells.