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New research seeks to boost immune system’s ability to kill cancer

Southampton researchers are investigating an immune cell that can fight cancer.

They aim to better understand why certain ‘natural killer T cells’ are more effective against cancer than others. A subset of white blood cells, these form an important part of our body’s immune system.

Boosting the body’s natural defences

Dr Salah Mansour and Dr Ali Roghanian at the University of Southampton’s Centre for Cancer Immunology will lead the study. Dr Mansour is part of the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre.

While the research is still at an early stage, they hope it will pave the way for new cancer immunotherapy treatments. These help the body's own immune system recognise and destroy tumour cells.

Identifying which immune cells are best at fighting cancer could aid the development of better treatments.

Finding the best cancer-fighting cells

In the laboratory, invariant Natural Killer T (iNKT) cells have been shown to fight cancer and trigger an anti-cancer reaction in the body. This makes them a key target for immunotherapy.

Yet clinical trials with cancer patients have so far been unsuccessful.

This new study aims to identify which type of iNKT cell can be used to efficiently kill tumour cells.

It is being funded by a pump priming grant from the university’s Southampton Enterprise Fund. This fund provides support to researchers to investigate early concept ideas.

Dr Mansour commented: “This study builds on previous work from our group, demonstrating that certain iNKT cells are more effective against tumour cells than others.

“We believe that previous iNKT-based approaches have been less successful partly because iNKT cells are defective in cancer patients. But we also believe it is because those studies have not exploited more potent iNKT cell subsets, that have a greater tendency to kill tumour cells.

“We are very excited to continue developing this translational project, and hope to be able to demonstrate the efficacy of these cells in bespoke pre-clinical models of cancer developed at Southampton.”

Image credit: University of Southampton Centre for Cancer Immunology

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