Every day, several hundred billion cells in our body die in a normal process known as apoptosis. Once cells die via apoptosis, they are efficiently cleared in the body in a manner that silences any possible immune response so as to avoid damaging autoimmunity. Paradoxically, when cancer cells die via apoptosis, it can also induce this “tolerance” that prevents immune responses against the tumor. While this phenomenon underlies one of the major challenges in generating effective immune responses against cancer, not all forms of cell death are immune-silencing.
In that light, Dr. Liu is studying an immune-stimulating form of cell death known as pyroptosis that can be caused by bacterial infection. In particular, she is exploring if converting the immune-silencing apoptosis to immune-stimulating pyroptosis may be able to unleash immune responses against solid tumors. Thus far, she’s shown that cancer cells engineered to undergo this conversion are hindered in their ability to form tumors in mice. Moving forward, she intends to investigate the therapeutic potential of this approach as well as dissect the mechanisms behind the observed protection against tumors in order to determine if it might also provide an effective treatment approach in humans with cancer.
Projects and Grants
Conversion of cancer cell apoptosis to pyroptosis as a mechanism of immunogenizing the tumor microenvironment
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital | All Cancers, Childhood Cancer | 2020 | Douglas R. Green, Ph.D.
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