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Manipulating the immune system to fight prostate cancer

  • Researcher: Dr John Maher
  • Institution: King's College London, England
  • Award Amount: £197,164 for 3 years from December 2013
  • Cancer Type: Prostate Cancer
Manipulating the immune system to fight prostate cancer
The immune system is part of our body’s response to infection and disease.  It includes T cells, which have the ability to recognise foreign molecules – such as those on bacteria, viruses and even some cancer cells. Once a foreign body has been detected the immune system is able to attack and kill it. But cancer cells have a wide range of ways to prevent the immune system from recognising or attacking them. Dr Maher is developing a new way of using the immune system to attack prostate cancer cells.  He is specifically looking at prostate cancer in men where the cancer cells have stopped responding to the usual drugs and have spread to other parts of the body, known as metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC). 

For these men there are few treatment options remaining so new ones are being urgently sought.In the laboratory, Dr Maher will genetically alter T cells that specifically recognise prostate cancer cells, taken from men with mCRPC. He will then inject a large number of these altered T cells into mice with prostate tumours.  Once the T cells stick to a prostate cancer cell, the T cells are designed to make genes which help the body destroy the cancer cells, whilst leaving healthy cells unharmed. 

The team hope that one of genes will also ensure that the T-cells can produce more T-cells by taking advantage of the environment in which the tumour is located, which is altered by the prostate cancer.  Depending on his findings in mice, Dr Maher is hoping that his T-cells could be used in a human clinical trial in the next few years.  He is already doing a clinical based on findings from his previous Worldwide Cancer Research grant for patients with head and neck cancers and we are excited at the thought that this may also be possible for prostate cancer patients one day.
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