Rewiring blood cells that block the immune response with AI

Professor Peter Carmeliet
Project period
Apr 2023 - Mar 2026
Research Institute
VIB vzw
Cancer types
General cancer research
Lung cancer
Award amount

Project aim

Professor Peter Carmeliet and his team are working on what could be a new type of immunotherapy. If successful, their new approach could treat more patients with several cancer types.

Hope for the future

Immunotherapy has been a revolution in cancer therapy, providing many patients with a new hope for treatment and giving them more time with their loved ones. Sadly, immunotherapy does not work for every patient. Researchers around the world are still finding new ways to make immunotherapy work better and give hope to even more patients with cancer.

Professor Carmeliet and his team are hoping to reverse one of the reasons behind immunotherapy’s inconsistent effect. They are going to target a specific cell (blood vessel cells) that normally suppresses the immune system, and try to get it to boost the immune system instead, prompting it fight off the cancer. If successful, this would be a brand-new type of immunotherapy ready for new clinical uses.

Meet the scientist

At the age of 18, Professor Carmeliet had to decide between becoming a professional flutist, engineer, or physician scientist – following his father’s advice (himself a prominent researcher) on the power research holds to change patients’ lives, he decided to study medicine, and the rest is history. As expected for a scientist, Professor Carmeliet likes to explore and experiment – that includes in the kitchen!

The science

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer therapy that works by harnessing the immune system to fight off cancer cells. It has huge potential, but sadly many patients’ cancer resists treatment because the tumour suppresses the immune system around it. A specific type of cell that lines the blood supply to a tumour, called an endothelial cell, may be to blame for this immunosuppression.

Professor Carmeliet and his team are aiming to rewire the endothelial cells so that instead of suppressing the immune system they activate it, as a new form of immunotherapy. The researchers will use artificial intelligence (AI) to help them find the best genes to target with the new treatment. They will then check to see what other tissues might be affected by this approach, to make sure there are no other undesired side effects.

These are exciting times, with promising Artificial Intelligence based strategies knocking on the door, a whole new way of performing research! The chance to make an impact, discovering and finding new biological insights and innovative solutions, is what drives me and my team to continue doing what we do.
Professor Carmeliet

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