Researchers at the University of Birmingham will harness cells from the immune system and genetically engineer them to create ‘assassin’ cells that target and kill myeloma cancer cells.
Dr Gavin Bendle has been awarded the prestigious Bennett Fellowship grant of £725,000 by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research to set up a new research team at The University of Birmingham in July 2013. The team will work on modifying cells from the immune system, known as T cells, and direct them to eradicate myeloma cells.
The challenge is to engineer ‘assassin’ cells that attack myeloma cells, whilst stopping them from also attacking healthy cells. Dr Bendle and his team aim to fine-tune the process so that it can be taken forward into clinical trials.
Although myeloma treatment has improved dramatically in recent years, it unfortunately remains incurable. The team will add DNA to myeloma patients’ T cells, re-programming them to specifically target myeloma cells. Recent clinical trials of these ‘assassin’ cells have been successful in reducing skin cancer with few side effects.
Dr Bendle, of the School of Cancer Sciences at The University of Birmingham, said: “If successful, our genetically engineered T cells will hopefully give rise to a better prognosis for those diagnosed with multiple myeloma – and later even more blood cancer types.”
Self-defensive ‘factors’ released by myeloma cells act as camouflage for the cancer cells, hindering the immune cells’ ability to attack the myeloma cells. The team will attempt to genetically engineer T cells to also become resistant to these factors.
Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “This research is exciting and potentially ground-breaking within the study and treatment of blood cancers.”