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Cancer showcase event leads to immunotherapy gift

22 August 2017

In June Cardiff University hosted ‘Your cancer is not my cancer: is personalised medicine the future?’- a showcase of the world class cancer research being undertaken by the University’s academics.

The event featured the work of Professor Awen Gallimore whose research focuses on immunotherapy and, in particular, whether specific blood vessels can help cancer-fighting immune cells permeate into tumours more effectively.  Following the successful event, a gift of £10,000 was made to support Professor Gallimore’s work by the charity Cancer and Genetics UK. Nick Phillips, director of the charity, said:

I was impressed with Professor Gallimore’s recent presentation in London, on the cancer immunology research being undertaken at Cardiff University. The immune system is very complex and Professor Gallimore explained clearly about cancer immunology and how it can be designed for successful cancer therapies.

The donation will be used to fund an IMARIS Imaging System which can be used to identify bottlenecks to successful immunotherapy. Recent advances indicate that it is possible to use the power of the immune system to fight cancer. Whilst there have been notable successes in the treatment of melanoma, there remain significant bottlenecks to success in other cancers. This may be due to the nature of the environment in which the cancer is growing. In the case of some cancers, the nature of the environment is such that it allows immune cells to enter unimpeded whilst in other cases, components of the cancer environment prevent effective entry of immune cells. This is a significant problem; if the immune cells cannot enter a cancer, they will fail to kill it.

One key objective of Professor Gallimore’s research is to identify components of the environment that allow or prevent entry of immune cells. To achieve this, sections of tumour cells are analysed in detail using fluorescently- or chemically-labelled tags that allow researchers to formulate a map of the cancer environment which takes into account:

  1. The cancer cells,
  2. Other cell types present which render cancer cells more or less aggressive
  3. Cells of the immune system
  4. Blood vessels

Visualisation of the component parts is carried out using microscopy and images are recorded for further analysis. The IMARIS software system will significantly improve the ability to perform in-depth analysis of these stained tissues. It will allow researchers to trace individual cells as well as examine their spatial and functional relationships with other cells. The software is also quantitative and will help to determine the frequencies of particular cell types or the size of tumour blood vessels. Moreover, it will allow for analysis using thick pieces of tissues thereby improving significantly on the quality and quantity of information to be gained.

This work will ultimately identify pathways which can be targeted by pharmacological and/or biological therapies and can be used to maximise the power of the immune system for killing cancer.