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Major EU grant to develop cancer-fighting cells


A pre-clinical research project coordinated by The University of Manchester, which will advance understanding of how cancer cells evade the immune system, has been awarded nearly €12m by the EU. The European Union Framework Programme (FP6) will enable doctors to improve ‘T-cell mediated immunotherapy’, which has the potential to fight a broad range of cancers.

The five year ‘ATTACK’ Project (Adoptive engineered T-cell Targeting to Activate Cancer Killing), involves an international consortium of 16 partners, who will collaborate on the process of engineering T-cells.

T-cells are part of the body’s immune defense machinery which naturally protects against infections and some cancers and can be used to treat some malignant disease, but many cancers avoid destruction by the immune system. The project team hopes that state of the art technologies can be used to modify the T-cells, to hunt down and destroy cancer tumours.

Robert Hawkins, Cancer Research UK Professor of Medical Oncology at The University of Manchester, said: “Unlike radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which destroy both cancerous and healthy cells, Engineered T-cell Therapy has the potential to selectively destroy cancers within a patient’s body using its own infection-fighting mechanisms. This project focuses on optimising that system in the laboratory.

“The ultimate aim is to develop a process whereby T-cells are taken from the blood of a patient, genetically modified to enable them to target tumours, multiplied in the laboratory and injected in large numbers back into the patient.

The approach stems from original research by Professor Zelig Eshhar in Israel, and the partners include experts in immunology and tumour biology as well as those who have developed key aspects of engineered T-cells. Professor Hawkins continued:

“Already vaccines can prevent certain cancers, and the aim of this project is to develop effective methods to target others. By bringing together many of the leading immunotherapy groups in Europe we will be able to combine basic scientific expertise, new technologies and experience in pre-clinical testing, and our co-ordinated efforts should facilitate enormous progress.

“We expect the project to lead to many more trials in the future and are hopeful it could lead to real improvements in treatment.”

Professor Nic Jones, head of the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research where the project will be based, said: “Developments in cancer treatment are likely to require major team efforts, and we are delighted that the consortium has been awarded this major international grant. Cancer immunotherapy is a very exciting area and one that we are seeking to expand further in Manchester; we are already building a new Gene Therapy Centre funded by the Christie Appeal and are hoping to recruit other leading researchers in this field.”

Caroline Shaw, Chief Executive of the Christie Hospital said; “This is fantastic news for Professor Hawkins and his research team, for Manchester and most importantly for patients. Cancer research in Manchester is going from strength to strength and it’s the patients who will ultimately benefit.”

Jo Nightingale | alfa
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