The area surrounding a tumor, also known as the tumor microenvironment, contains various immune cells that can promote or suppress tumor growth. Killer T cells are thought to be the main cells targeted by checkpoint immunotherapies that target the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway, which are FDA approved for the treatment of many advanced cancers. Among these killer T cells, there are also the unconventional T cells, such as MAIT cells, which have been reported to have both protective and harmful roles in infection and autoimmune diseases. However, their role in anti-tumor immunity is unknown. Despite the perception that MAIT cells kill tumor cells, Dr. Teng has observed reduced tumor growth and decreased metastases in mice that lack MAIT cells. Furthermore, she has shown that an antibody that blocks MAIT cell function suppresses metastasis and tumor growth in different tumor models, including those that are resistant to PD-1 checkpoint immunotherapy.
Now, Dr. Teng’s research aims to understand the mechanism by which MAIT cells suppress immune responses against tumors. She will explore therapeutic strategies to block the immunosuppressive activity of MAIT cells alone and in combination with approved immunotherapies in pre-clinical mouse models of sarcoma and liver cancer. Additionally, she will analyze human tumor samples for the presence of MAIT cells, which could help indicate this approach’s potential with respect to improving cancer immunotherapy for patients.
Projects and Grants
Blocking MR1 as a Novel Cancer Immunotherapy
QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute (Australia) | Liver Cancer, Sarcoma | 2020
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