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Jekyll and Hyde immune cells in skin cancer tumours

  • Researcher: Dr Adam Hurlstone
  • Institution: University of Manchester, England
  • Award Amount: £185,837 for 3 years from 1st September 2015
  • Cancer Type: General Cancer Research
Jekyll and Hyde immune cells in skin cancer tumours
Macrophages are a multi-tasking type of immune cell that have the power to kill cancer cells, but for some reason don’t when a tumour becomes established.   Dr Hurlstone is using his Worldwide Cancer Research grant to study this conundrum.  “Macrophages are multifunctional” he tells us, “they kill infectious bugs, help heal wounds, and we know they can kill cancer cells when they are working normally.  But here’s the curious thing; in some cancers, instead of killing cancer cells they cause inflammation around the tumour that actually helps the tumour grow in a Jekyll and Hyde typed scenario." Dr Hurlstone is studying melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer that is responsible for over 2000* cancer deaths every year in the UK.  “Melanoma causes a huge response from the immune system” he says, “over 40% of cells inside a melanoma tumour can be macrophages, not cancer cells”.  Dr Hurlstone has found that macrophages inside melanomas secrete a molecule called IL1β, which helps cause the tumour-fuelling inflammation. This project will use a zebrafish model of melanoma to study what happens if IL1β release from macrophages can be blocked.  “We want to investigate how macrophages orchestrate inflammation in melanoma and see if we can re-ignite their tumour killing ability instead” he explains. “By blocking IL1β we hope to reprogram macrophages to ‘heal’ melanomas instead of helping them”. *
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