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Investigating the role of immune system cells in cancer

  • Researcher: Professor Jamie Rossjohn
  • Institution: Monash University
  • Award Amount: £202,034 for 3 years from June 2012
  • Cancer Type: Leukaemia
Investigating the role of immune system cells in cancer
The immune system constantly monitors the body for signs of anything that may cause disease, including cancer. White blood cells are the main cells that run the immune system, and one type of white blood cell is called a natural killer (NK) cell. These cells have molecules on their surface, called receptors, which recognise viruses or tumour cells. There are several such receptors, and they are involved in switching on, or waking up, NK cells when the body comes under attack. The genes that control these receptors have been shown to influence how patients react to treatment. Some specific genes appear to have a big effect on the outcome of patients who have received a stem cell transplant to treat a type of cancer called acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Patient outcomes were dependent on the types of genes that different patients had.

With his new Worldwide Cancer Research grant, Professor Rossjohn is planning to study the structure of these NK cells receptors and how they interact with other molecules, in order to learn how they recognise tumour cells. These results will hopefully help to reinterpret results from stem cell transplant patients so that in future better matches can be found when selecting stem cell donors for diseases that affect the blood or bone marrow, such as AML.
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