Harnessing the power of the immune system to fight obesity associated cancer

Posted on: 18 Oct 2019

Harnessing the power of the immune system to fight obesity associated cancer

BCR PhD Scholar: Eimear Mylod

Start year: 2019

Principal Investigators: Dr Melissa Conroy & Associate Professor Joanne Lysaght

Host Institution: Trinity College Dublin

Cancer type: Oesophageal

Linked Breakthrough Research Priorities: 1, 2, 4

Obesity is a growing health problem around the world and can cause many diseases. Obese people are at higher risk of cancers such as oesophageal cancer which is cancer of the food-pipe. Today, most people with oesophageal cancer don’t respond to available treatment options, meaning survival rates are low. The immune system is essential for fighting cancer, but it is often faulty in cancer patients. Treatments which aim to use the immune system to help fight cancer are called immunotherapies. In recent year immunotherapy has been heralded as a major breakthrough for cancer treatment.

Natural killer cells are the body’s own first line defence against cancer and are important for cancer killing. This team have shown that these important cancer-killing natural killer cells are pulled into the fat in oesophageal cancer patients, where they die. This reduces the body’s ability to fight cancer. The movement of immune cells, including natural killer cells, around the body is controlled by molecules called chemokines. They have shown that chemokines are dysregulated in oesophageal cancer and are guiding immune cells to the fat instead of the cancer.

Eimear's research study will test whether targeting chemokines can redirect natural killer cell movement towards the tumour in oesophageal cancer patients. They hope that this offers therapeutic potential to boost natural killer cell movement to the site of the cancer and help to eliminate it.

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