In 2005, Awen came to us with a new idea. Awen and her team had recently discovered that tumours were able to evade the attack of the immune system because the presence of a special type of white blood cell (called a regulatory T cell) was suppressing the immune responses that usually destroy tumours. Awen’s idea was that if we could reduce the activity of these white blood cells, it could release the full potential of the immune system to eradicate cancer cells.
One key discovery Awen made during her Worldwide Cancer Research project was that tumours have the power to increase the number of regulatory T cells present in their environment. By hijacking the activity of regulatory T cells, tumours can use them to their advantage and stay hidden from the immune system.
This discovery raised some exciting new questions that needed answering. Could they find a way to reduce the number of regulatory T cells circulating around the tumour? If so, would this unmask the power of immune system, allowing tumour growth to be slowed down or even stopped?
“Discovery science is crucial because understanding underpinning biology drives the development of new therapies, enables them to be tested and enables them to be optimised for the patients benefit” - Professor Awen Gallimore