Southampton: immunotherapy research
Last updated: 06/08/2012
What's this project about?
Researchers at our Southampton Centre are leading the world in developing and testing potential new 'immunotherapies' for cancer patients. This exciting approach aims to use the power of the body's own immune system to target and destroy cancer cells.
Professor Tim Elliott is making fundamental discoveries about how our immune system works that will aid the design of effective new treatments to improve survival for people with cancer.
Read the transcript here.
Let your friends and family know about this project to get them involvedShare this project
Project update - July 2011
Professor Tim Elliott got in touch recently and gave us an update on how the project was progressing:
Our research has entered a really exciting phase recently. Two members of my group have just moved into the new Life Sciences Building on the main University campus where they can be close to our collaborators who are experts in computer science. This is exciting - together we are using computer science to help us understand how tumours work out which molecules to ‘show’ to our immune system and which to hide.
Using computers might sound far from the business of inventing new therapies for cancer, but actually we are making the scientific process much more efficient. Until now we have relied on a spark of inspiration to hit us in the bathtub before we go and design an experiment to test our brilliant new idea – often to find that it wasn’t such a brilliant idea after all! By using computers to help us model what is likely to happen we can run through dozens of possible ideas in one day and discard the ones that won’t work.
This way we only test the ones that will be really informative in the lab. We have just published an article about this approach in a prestigious international journal called the ‘Public Library of Science Computational Biology’ which we did in collaboration with our colleagues at Microsoft Research in Cambridge.
Meanwhile, back at the lab, we have discovered how we can improve the immune response to cancer vaccines. These vaccines are designed to boost the immune system, helping it to recognise and destroy cancer cells. We’ve tested our approach to strengthening this response in a model of prostate cancer and the results will be published in the Journal of Immunology later this year.
Whenever I talk to donors at our open days or fundraising events I am always humbled by their appreciation of how important generating new knowledge is. I am also inspired by their curiosity and I can’t thank our supporters enough for helping us continue our work.
Project update - March 2011
Professor Elliott shared some updates from his labs in Southampton. Read on to see what his team has been up to:
Our project is going very well, with some important discoveries around T-cells – cells in our immune system. Normally, these are prevented from attacking cancer cells. During the last few months, we have discovered that we can 'switch' T-cells on so they can launch a powerful anti-cancer response.
We are now trying to understand this process, and hope this will reveal if drugs or vaccines could boost T-cells to attack cancer cells. Our team works closely with other scientists to investigate if our findings are important in different types of cancer.
Excitingly, some members of our research team will be moving into new state-of-the-art laboratories here in Southampton, where they will work closely with many other scientists from different backgrounds, including mathematicians, chemists and biophysicists. This collaboration will enable us study T-cells in greater detail and help us find a way for our immune systems beat cancer.
We really appreciate the great fundraising efforts you are doing to support our research – thank you so much for all you do.
What's the science behind this project?
Our immune system protects us against foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. Immunotherapy is all about stimulating this natural defence to fight cancer.
Before scientists can set about developing new immunotherapy treatments, they first need to understand as much as possible about how the immune system normally works.
Professor Tim Elliott is studying a key step in our natural immune response: how our immune cells recognise what to launch an attack against in the first place.
It is the job of certain immune cells to patrol our body, looking out for things that could pose a threat. When they find something, they hit an alert button that sparks a chain of events to neutralise it.
Although this system is good at recognising things like bacteria and viruses, it's not so efficient at seeing cancer cells - simply because they are our own body cells that are growing uncontrollably.
Understanding more about how our immune system recognises what to attack will help uncover new ways to make cancer cells more visible, and therefore vulnerable to an assault that will destroy them.
The difference you can make
Thanks to our generous supporters, extensive research by Cancer Research UK scientists has enabled us to make great progress in the field of immunotherapy. We have come a long way, but there is still so much more to do to make the most of its potential.
Professor Elliott’s groundbreaking research could lead to new immunotherapy treatments for many different types of cancer. This could have a huge impact, saving many thousands of lives in the future.
Please help us raise £180,000 to support a year of Professor Elliott's groundbreaking research.
Cancer Research UK in Southampton
The Southampton Cancer Research UK Centre is one of a unique chain of Cancer Research UK Centres across the UK. The Centres draw together world-class research and areas of medical expertise to provide the best possible results for cancer patients nationwide.
As one of the first centres, the Southampton Cancer Research UK Centre has helped set the pace for national and international progress in immunology and immunotherapy. The Centre's research focuses on strengths in immunotherapy, cell biology, medical oncology, surgery and cancer genetics.
Visit the Centre's website for more information about their groundbreaking work.
Donate now and you can help support: Southampton: immunotherapy research