Turning red lights green: How do cancer cells stop immune cells from doing their job?
Dr Stefano Angiari and his team are studying how cancer cells stop immune cells from fighting back. They hope a closer look at this process will reveal new ways to target cancer by boosting anti-tumour immunity.
Hope for the future
In a healthy human body, our immune system plays an important role in preventing cancer by detecting and destroying problems before they develop into cancer. One of the ways cancer cells survive and multiply despite this protection is by warding off the immune cells or stopping them from working properly.
Dr Angiari and his team are investigating how specific signals from the cancer cells that make up tumours can stop immune cells from putting up a fight. They hope a clearer view of this process, focused on a specific type of anti-tumour immune cell called a T cell, will reveal new ways to boost anti-tumour immunity. In the future, this could lead to treatments that can block tumour growth in lung cancer and potentially many other cancer types.
Meet the scientist
Dr Angiari says he has liked science ever since he was a child. In high school labs, he was most interested in microbiology, and at university he volunteered in a virology lab. He then studied inflammation and autoimmunity for his Masters thesis, two topics that are now the main lines of research in his lab group today.
Outside of the lab, Dr Angiari enjoys hiking, jogging, playing football, and listening to music. He is a big food fan - he says, "being an Italian, I must say that pizza is probably my favourite dish". He has also recently taken on the challenge of learning German!
Cancer cells give off various signals that stop the immune cells working properly and instead help the tumour to grow. One of these signals is called ‘succinate’, and research has revealed how it can prevent some immune cells from fighting off a tumour. T cells are one important type of immune cell in cancer – they have the ability to kill cancer cells – however we don’t know specifically how they are influenced by this signalling within a tumour.
Dr Angiari and his team have already shown that T cells are sensitive to this signalling, so they could be key to finding new ways to target cancer. The researchers plan to investigate how succinate affects T cell behaviour using cell cultures, mouse models of lung cancer, and human lung tumour samples in the lab. Understanding this process more clearly will help patients by finding new ways to boost anti-tumour immunity that can fight off or limit tumour growth.
‘Discovery research’ is not only important - it is simply essential. Without basic science, without a deep knowledge of the molecular mechanisms controlling organismal functionality, we would never be able to understand the causes of any disease or discover novel therapeutic targets.Dr Stefano Angiari
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