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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 highly effective treatment that turns the body’s own immune system against cancer. Where chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to target fast-growing tumours, it cannot tell which fast-growing cells are cancerous or not, so healthy fast-growing cells like your hair and skin are also affected. Immunotherapy works by boosting the body’s own immune system, enabling it to recognise and eliminate cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells alone. Our next step is to make sure ovarian cancer patients can benefit from immunotherapy treatment.

New discoveries to boost the immune system

Ovarian cancer cells have developed a clever way to exhaust the immune system so it cannot do its job. One way to re-energise the immune system is to develop vaccines, created by extracting immune cells called T-cells from the patient, giving them a boost in the lab, and putting them back into the patient.

Scientists have already found this vaccination technique is a powerful way to treat certain cancers. The goal of Professor Ahmed’s project is to create an ovarian cancer vaccine. They will test out if T-cells can be trained to target a specific mutation in an ovarian cancer cell, and destroy the tumour completely.

Professor Ahmed will also use the findings from his early detection work to unlock new clues about the role of the Fallopian tubes in ovarian cancer. His lab has found that immune cells in the Fallopian tubes have unique features, which may somehow cause ovarian cancer to develop. This project will test whether these Fallopian tube immune cells could be turned to kill those very cancer cells. If successful this innovative approach could be the most effective immunotherapy strategy for ovarian cancer developed yet.