Understanding how cancer cells modify white blood cells to help tumours grow
Dr Hidalgo wants to better understand how cancer cells ‘reprogram’ our white blood cells, helping cancers to grow and preventing immunotherapies from working.
Hope for the future
Immunotherapy is a powerful type of targeted cancer treatment that works by harnessing the power of our own immune system. Each type of immunotherapy works differently, but they all ultimately aim to target and kill cancer cells.
A particular type of immunotherapy called ‘immune checkpoint inhibitors’ can now be used to treat many cancer types, but unfortunately, they have not had much success at treating breast cancer or lung cancer.
One reason for an immunotherapy to not work may be because cancer cells can ‘hijack’ our immune system. By better understanding this reprogramming, Dr Hidalgo hopes to identify new targets for immunotherapy that will lead to better treatments for many cancers, including breast or lung cancer.
Meet the scientist
Dr Hidalgo is a new dad, so hobbies are a bit on hold at the moment. But he loves to spend time with his girls at home and, when he can, take his bike for local rides. He also loves movies and, he confesses that he also has a blast discussing science with colleagues and people in the lab.
Some cancer cells can hijack the biological properties of a type of white blood cell called a neutrophil. As cancer develops, the cancer cells instruct the neutrophils to form new blood vessels and protect the cancer cells from other anti-tumour immune cells. These modified neutrophils help cancers to grow, and this interaction tends to lead to poorer outcomes for patients.
Despite being the most abundant immune cells in human blood, at the moment, very little is known about how neutrophils are reprogrammed, whether they are reprogrammed differently in different cancer types, or how immunotherapy might reverse the programming in order to fight cancer. Luckily, Dr Hidalgo and his team are experts in neutrophils! They plan to answer these questions by building up a map showing how neutrophils develop during the progression of cancer.
By better understanding the process by which neutrophils are reprogrammed, Dr Hidalgo hopes to find new cures, particularly for cancers such as breast cancer and lung cancer where neutrophil numbers are high and immunotherapies are not currently successful.
The funding from Worldwide Cancer Research will give us the freedom to explore new questions and to make progress in the fundamental biology of cancer immunology.Dr Andrés Hidalgo
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