Research projects

Life, Death and Afterlife: Using cell death to boost our immune system

Professor Pascal Meier
Project period
Jul 2023 - Jun 2026
Research Institute
Institute of Cancer Research
Cancer types
Breast cancer
Award amount

Project aim

Professor Pascal Meier and his team hope to find a smarter and kinder way to treat breast cancer. They want to destroy cancer cells in a different way from other cancer treatments – by mimicking the way viruses kill infected cells.

Hope for the future

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide. Although a lot of progress has been made, almost 700,000 people died of breast cancer in 2020. Breast cancer treatments often work by trying to damage cancer cells to the point that they ‘self-destruct’, a process called apoptosis.

Sadly, these treatments sometimes fail because the cancer becomes  resistant to  apoptosis. Professor Pascal Meier and his team are testing a new way to kill resistant breast cancer cells that also triggers the immune system to further destroy the cancer. The researchers hope this will develop into a better way to treat breast cancer that is kinder to patients, and that it could be tested in clinical trials.


lab experiment

Meet the scientist

Professor Meier grew up in Switzerland but now lives in London. He enjoys art, architecture and relaxing with friends. He loves cooking and his favourite food is Portuguese cuisine.

The science

Apoptosis, sometimes called ‘cell suicide’, is a natural process our bodies use to get rid of unwanted cells. A lot of cancer treatments work by triggering this process to kill cancer cells, but sometimes cancer cells evolve to ignore the signal to self-destruct. This is a major problem that leads to treatments failing for many cancer patients.

However, apoptosis is not the only way to kill cells - ‘necroptosis’ is the way that viruses kill infected cells. It is an explosive form of cell death where a cell swells then bursts. Professor Meier had the bright idea that killing cancer cells via necroptosis might work better than treatments that work via apoptosis. This is because our body is very used to dealing with cells that die by apoptosis because our bodies clears over 200 billion cells by apoptosis every day. This greatly differs with necroptosis, which is a form of cell death that is used to clear infected cells. So using necroptosis also means our own immune system might spring into action, thinking that the body is under attack by a virus.

Professor Meier and his team also hope to reveal how necroptosis could alert a patient’s own immune system to attack and destroy any cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body. Using state-of-the-art tumour models, the researchers will explore how to manipulate the biological pathways that lead to necroptosis and find kinder and smarter ways to treat cancer.

Head shot of researcher Professor Pascal Meier Professor Pascal Meier
Without your support we will not be able to conduct this research and discover how we can harness necroptosis to kill tumour cells. Your generosity will make a big difference in the identification of new approaches to defeat cancer. Thank you for your investment in our work. We are honoured to have your support and are committed to continue our efforts to develop better treatments for breast cancer.

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