Fine tuning immune cells to be effective killers

Lead researcher - Professors Hans Stauss and Emma Morris, University College London
Editing specificity and function to enhance T cell therapy of haematological malignancies
Amount awarded: £1,798,136
Award start date: 01 Jul 2013
Award duration: 6 years

The goal of this program is to use cells of the immune system for the treatment of leukaemia, lymphoma and other types of blood cancer. A major advantage of this type of cell therapy over existing treatment options is that immune cells can recognise specific markers on cancer cells, providing a basis for the selective attack of cancer while avoiding damage to normal tissues.

The patients own immune system is generally impaired due to inefficient recognition of cancer-specific markers, and due to inappropriate stimulation of the immune cells leading to a state of immune exhaustion and an inability to attack cancer cells.

The genes responsible for recognition of cancer-specific markers, and for regulating the activation and exhaustion status of immune cells have recently been identified. We will take advantage of this knowledge and insert the genes involved in cancer-specific recognition into patient immune cells, while disrupting the genes involved in immune exhaustion. We will also test, whether the genetically enhanced immune cells can trigger the patients’ own immune system to more effectively fight cancer. This form of gene therapy with immune cells has the potential to establish lasting cancer protection without the need for repeated cycles of treatment.