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Biomarker tool for cancer immunotherapy

21 September 2018

New immunotherapies which help the immune system to recognise and destroy cancer cells are promising, but some patients don’t respond to the new treatments. With the help of an Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Clinical Primer Scheme award, Dr Emily Milodowski has been developing a new tool as a step towards being able to identify people who can be helped by these new therapies.

The body’s immune system plays a major role in regulating cancer development, and can identify and destroy many cancers - except when the cancers can prevent these cells from functioning effectively. Using flow cytometry she has started to look at patterns of coinhibitory receptors on the surface of immune cells to see if these could potentially be used as biomarkers to determine which patients will respond to the treatments for melanoma and which will not. The technique allows her to study individual immune cells which she can label with different antibodies, tagged with fluorescent markers, and identify the different combinations of receptors found on the surface of each cell. She has designed a new antibody panel to look at the expression of 16 different cell markers simultaneously. Over the course of the six month project, Emily has been testing how different experimental conditions can affect how co-inhibitory receptors are expressed by T lymphocytes. So far, she has been developing the new panel to look for co-inhibitory receptors on T lymphocytes in healthy donors. The next step is to use the panel in blood and tumour samples from people with malignant melanomas, to help understand why some people don’t respond to checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapies.

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