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A game of hide and seek – ensuring there’s no place for bowel tumours to hide

  • Researcher: Professor Marjolein van Egmond
  • Institution: VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Award Amount: £216,113 from 1st September 2015 for 3 years
  • Cancer Type: Bowel Cancer
A game of hide and seek – ensuring there’s no place for bowel tumours to hide
Professor Marjolein van Egmond is studying the latest type of cancer treatment called immunotherapy, one of the most promising developments in cancer medicine of recent years.  Immunotherapy enlists the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer and a huge research effort is underway to uncover how to recruit the different parts.  “A lot of research is focused on the main immune cells many of us know from school – B and T cells” explains Professor van Egmond “but we are interested in a type of immune cell that is often overlooked – the neutrophil”. Neutrophils aren’t just able to kill cancer cells; they also have the useful trick of secreting (releasing) molecules that give all the other immune cells in the vicinity a boost.  “Unfortunately, in order to protect themselves, tumours can be very good at dampening down immune cells, and it’s a problem for immunotherapy because it means cancers can fight back” she says. In her Worldwide Cancer Research project, Professor van Egmond and her team want to reprogram activated neutrophils so they are drawn right into the heart of tumours.  This might overcome the ability of tumours to hide from the immune system.  The project will look specifically at bowel cancer, but Professor van Egmond sees no reason why the results should not translate to other types of cancer too. “We think the mechanisms are much the same.” she explains “and ultimately we hope our research will improve outcome and quality of life for many cancer patients”. Speaking about the grant she told us  “I am very grateful for this opportunity to investigate our research questions. Immunotherapy is such a promising treatment, but unfortunately it will not work in all patients, because some tumours develop tricks to hide from the immune system. Now we will be able to test if we can counteract these tricks, which may make immunotherapy available for many more patients.”
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