Breaking down the defences of leukaemia

Lead researcher - Dr Cristina Lo Celso, Imperial College London
In vivo analysis of the interactions between acute myeloid leukaemia, T cells and haematopoietic stem cells to inform the design of immunotherapy protocols
Amount awarded: £251,671
Award start date: 06 Jan 2016
Award duration: 3 years

Leukaemia is cancer of the blood and is a devastating disease because leukaemia cells completely overtake the blood, and normal functions, from transporting oxygen to clotting to fighting infections, are lost. Innovative therapies are ever actively sought. One of these, immunotherapy, exploits potentiated immune cells, which normally recognise infectious agents, to recognise leukaemia cells and kill them. We call these cells ‘killer cells’. However, leukaemia defends itself by recruiting immune cells of its own, which are able to block the killers. We call these cells ‘regulatory cells’ because in the absence of leukaemia they are responsible to switch off immune responses once pathogens have been cleared, so that we avoid excessive inflammation. We plan to use new powerful microscopy technology to investigate 3 main questions: 1) how does leukaemia recruit and interact with regulatory cells? 2) How best can we modulate/eliminate regulatory cells to allow killer cells to attack leukaemia? 3) what are the consequences of these cellular battles for the remaining healthy blood cells? Once we understand these processes, we can exploit immune cells to win the fight against leukaemia.