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Developing an immunotherapy treatment for pancreatic cancer

Recipient: Dr Alexandra Aicher

Host Institution: NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde

Title: Developing an immunotherapy treatment for pancreatic cancer

Type of award: 2015 Research Innovation Fund

Funding: £75,000

Immunotherapy works by harnessing the power of the body’s own immune system and using it to fight against cancer cells. Researchers can also artificially modify the immune cells so that they can specifically identify, attack and eliminate cancer cells. Unfortunately, solid cancer (such as pancreatic cancer) cannot be as easily fought using this approach. This is firstly because they contain a “stem cell” population, which is resistant to conventional treatment and causes disease relapse, and secondly because solid cancers use a portion of the body’s own immune system, a cell type called “MDSC”, to shield themselves from other immune cells. We now need to understand more about the ways that solid cancer cells are resistant to immunotherapy treatments, in order to optimise immunotherapy approaches that are showing such significant promise in fighting pancreatic cancer.

Dr Aicher’s team’s overall aim is to find out the best ways to overcome the challenges associated with using immunotherapy treatments for pancreatic cancer. During this project, the researchers will investigate the mechanisms by which the MDSC immune cells reduce the effects of the immunotherapy treatment on the pancreatic cancer cells. They will then use innovative strategies to develop and enhance their immunotherapy treatment so that it is more resistant to the MDSC immune cells and also more effective at fighting the cancer cells. This is an extremely promising area of investigation and based on the results this could lead to a ground-breaking new clinical trial to test a new immunotherapy treatment for people with pancreatic cancer.