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Immunology Update - April 2018

Welcome to the next installment of our regular update where we report on research from the world of immunology, highlighting work from BSI members that has hit the headlines over the past few weeks.

Two-pronged approach in the fight against cancer

Shutterstock/royaltystockphoto.comBy harnessing the immune system’s ability to isolate and destroy cancer cells, immunotherapy has quickly become a revolutionary new treatment in the fight against cancer.  A range of immunotherapies are currently in use, yet their efficacy can be varied and differ from patient to patient. 

A recent study led by BSI member Dr Sarah Buchan at the Centre for Cancer Immunology, University of Southampton, has shown that patient survival rates could be improved by combining two existing cancer immunotherapies.

Using different mouse models of cancer, a therapy consisting of antibodies which block the PD-1/PD-L1 checkpoint to boost the ability of T cells to fight cancer cells was used in combination with anti-CD27 antibodies, which activate T cells via the receptor CD27. These two therapies worked synergistically to result in 60% protection from cancer development compared to 10% protection from either treatment alone. 

Professor Aymen Al-Shamkhani, head of the laboratory in which the study was carried out, said, “Using checkpoint blockade has revolutionised the field of cancer immunotherapy, but it is not enough to simply stop the cancer from evading the immune system, we need to boost the immune system to fight the cancer off. By combining checkpoint blockade with an anti-CD27 antibody, we have been able to show that the two approaches can be harnessed to potentially improve current treatment options.”  

Although this approach has yet to be tested in humans, this study suggests that combining two existing cancer immunotherapies can significantly boost their efficacy, resulting in better outcomes for patients. 

Read the press release here.

Read the full article here: Buchan et al. 2018 Clinical Cancer Research DOI:

Synthetically simple: a new hope for vaccine delivery

Vaccines are a powerful tool in fighting infection.  They teachShutterstock/Artsplav the immune system how to respond to pathogens so if the real thing comes along, the body is prepared and we can fight infection without getting sick. 

The global economic burden of vaccines stands at around $4bn per year.  As many vaccines can degrade quickly if they are not stored and transported in refrigerators, a proportion of this cost is attributed to their delivery. This can be especially problematic in developing countries. 

A recent study led by BSI member Professor Andrew Sewell from Cardiff University and published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation showed that a synthetic ‘mirror image’ version of a protein belonging to the influenza A virus generated strong immune responses in human cells and mice, with the mice also being protected when exposed to a strain of influenza A.  As a synthetic compound, the drug was stable at room temperature and was not digested by stomach acid – highlighting its potential for transportation at room temperature as well as its ability to be administered orally, for example in pill form. 

“There are many benefits to oral vaccines. Not only would they be great news for people who have a fear of needles but they can also be much easier to store and transport, making them far more suitable for use in remote locations where current vaccine delivery systems can be problematic”, said Professor Sewell. 

Although it may be some years before synthetic vaccines are tested in humans, this is an exciting proof-of-concept study which may pave the way for the development of temperature-stable and orally-administered vaccines.

Read the press release here.

Read the full article here: Miles et al. 2018 Journal of Clinical Investigation  DOI:

Exercise your way to a youthful immune system

Shutterstock/l i g h t p o e tThe thymus is an organ which produces new immune cells – namely T cells.  During the ageing process, and particularly after 40 years of age, the thymus starts to shrink and T cell production is reduced. This results in a weakened immune system, leaving older people at a greater risk of infections as well as reducing the effectiveness of vaccines.  However, a recent study carried out by researchers at King’s College London and the University of Birmingham has suggested that some aspects of immune ageing could be reduced through exercise.

This study, led by BSI members Dr Niharika Duggal and Professor Janet Lord at the University of Birmingham, found that thymuses of older people (aged 55-79 years) who had maintained a high level of physical exercise for most of their life showed no shrinkage and had more new T cells than people of the same age who did no physical exercise.  The frequency of new T cells was also the same between the physically active older people and young adults. 

Professor Janet Lord, Director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham said of the work: “Hippocrates in 400BC said that exercise is man's best medicine, but his message has been lost over time and we are an increasingly sedentary society. Our research means we now have strong evidence that encouraging people to commit to regular exercise throughout their lives is a viable solution to the problem that we are living longer but not healthier”. 

Read the full press release here

Read the full article here: Duggal et al. 2018 Aging Cell  DOI: