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Finding ways to predict which patients will respond to immunotherapy

Researcher
Professor Tim Elliott
Project period
Feb 2021 - Feb 2024
Country
Research Institute
University of Oxford
Cancer types
General cancer research
Award amount
£219,275

Project aim

Professor Tim Elliott and his team are trying to identify characteristics of cancer cells that make them more likely to respond to a certain type of immunotherapy. They hope that pinpointing these attributes can make it easier to identify the patients that will respond well to the therapy.

Hope for the future

Only around a quarter of patients respond well to a type of immunotherapy called checkpoint blockade. Unfortunately, oncologists are currently unable to predict which patients will benefit. Professor Tim Elliott and his team are trying to change this by uncovering what it is that sets tumours that respond apart from those that don’t.

 

Meet the scientist

“I grew up in the industrial North of England and was the first person in my family to go to University. I studied Biochemistry at the University of Oxford, where we spent a year placement in one of the research labs. I found myself in the MRC Immunochemistry Unit run by Nobel Laureate Rod Porter and fell in love with lab-life immediately.

"I started to teach myself how to cook at Uni which turned out to be a lot like working in the lab and have cooked pretty much every day since then! I even had a phase of entering cooking competitions in the early 1990's!"

The science

Checkpoint blockade works by boosting - or reactivating - certain cells of the immune system that localise near the tumour. These inactive cells may have become exhausted from overstimulation or have been neutralised by the tumour.

Professor Tim Elliott and his team have been studying these immune cells in mice. When given checkpoint blockade treatment, around 50% of mice are cured. This provides an ideal tool to study what these mice have in common and what sets them apart from the mice that don’t respond to the treatment. In this way Professor Elliott hopes to identify characteristics of the natural immune response to cancer that make it more likely for patients to respond to checkpoint blockade immunotherapies, opening up exciting possibilities for personalised cancer treatment.

I hope that in the future, cancer will be amenable to earlier detection, that there will be more widely effective immunotherapies and that these will have fewer side-effects so that it becomes another manageable chronic condition of old-age.
Professor Tim Elliott

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