Project details

Researcher: Dr Seth Coffelt

Location: The Beatson Institue, Glasgow

Project title: To better understand gamma delta T cells to improve immunotherapies

The challenge

Triple negative breast cancer is the name given to breast cancer that currently lacks in targeted therapies, unlike oestrogen receptor and HER2 positive breast cancers. Triple negative breast cancer affects around one in five people with the disease. Research has shown that the risk of this type of breast cancer coming back or spreading is higher in the first few years than other types of breast cancer. Therefore, we need new better treatments for this form of the disease.

The science behind the project

The cells of the immune system protect us from infections and can even recognise and destroy cancer cells. However, cancer cells use a variety of ways to manipulate the immune system and hide from it.

Gamma delta T cells are a type of immune cell. They are of great interest to researchers because of their excellent ability to recognise and destroy many types of cancers. In addition, gamma delta T cells can attack a cancer cell without needing to interact with a molecule called MHC, which can be found on the surface of both healthy and cancer cells. For other types of T cells, interacting with MHC is essential to switch on their anti-cancer powers. This is an advantage making gamma delta T cells more versatile and more suitable for developing new cancer immunotherapies.

Some gamma delta T cell immunotherapies are already in development, but we need to better understand how gamma delta T cells work to ensure that they are as safe and effective as possible. Seth and his team are investigating the ability of these cells to destroy cancer cells, and work out how gamma delta T cells interact with other anti-cancer cells of the immune system. Understanding these immune cell relationships is vital to aid the design of immunotherapies with the best chances of success.

In this project, Seth and his PhD student will use both cancer cells grown in the lab and mouse models of triple negative breast cancer. They hope to reveal more about how gamma delta T cells destroy cancer cells so that this process can be made more efficient in future immunotherapies. The researchers will also look at how cancer cells may try to manipulate gamma delta T cells and turn off their anti-cancer powers, so that new immunotherapies could overcome this.   

What difference will this project make?

This project will tell us more about how gamma delta T cells can find and destroy cancer. The researchers also hope to reveal what role these cells play in the immune system and how they interact with other immune cells. This could help develop improved immunotherapies and could lead to new ways to treat triple negative breast cancer. If this project is successful, Seth believes that it will provide vital information to help enhance gamma delta T cell immunotherapies that are in development.

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