Turning T-cells into torpedoes: unlocking the power of the immune system
Turning T-cells into torpedoes: unlocking the power of the immune system - Research at Peter Mac
|Dr Jane Oliaro from Peter Mac's Immune Signalling Laboratory was honoured for driving one of '10 of the Best' Research Projects 2011 by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the council’s annual acknowledgment of ten world-class scientific and medical research projects underway across Australia. |
Dr Oliaro's research investigates how T-cells can be controlled to produce more cancer-fighting cells through a process called asymmetric cell division.
|T-cells have long attracted the attention of cancer researchers as the soldiers of the immune system. When activated and deployed during an immune response to infection, T-cells become either an effector, or ‘warrior’, cell, responsible for killing the infected cells; or a memory cell, responsible for maintaining a memory so that similar infections can be dealt with rapidly in the future.|
‘We discovered that individual T-cells may use asymmetric cell division to generate these effector and memory T cells,’ says Dr Oliaro.
‘My research has shown that during asymmetric cell division, “antigen-presenting” cells control the distribution of different proteins into the daughter cells.’
Dr Oliaro believes that signalling between T-cells and antigen-presenting cells before this division occurs is the key to creating new cancer therapies that manipulate the character of the resulting daughter cells.
‘If these signals can be artificially recreated, scientists could develop a “blueprint” to reproduce more warrior and memory T-cells.
‘Future therapies could bolster the numbers of these cells, creating an army that are trained to unmask, target and kill cancer cells that are otherwise invisible to the body’s immune system.’
The research is based on the fundamentals of immunisation; to create pools of memory cells that retain critical information generated when the body is at risk.
However until now, researchers have not been able to explain precisely how memory T-cells develop, and application of the theory to cancer remained out of reach.
‘In the past, no-one was looking at the very first division following the interaction between unactivated T-cells and the antigen-presenting cells at the single cell level,’ says Dr Oliaro.
‘This phase is crucial for T-cell activation, and may be the key to determining T-cell fate during an immune response.
‘It’s an incredibly exciting prospect: if we can understand how asymmetric cell division controls the production of different T-cells, we could learn to manufacture all the warrior and memory cells the body needs to fight cancer, without chemotherapy, surgery or radiation therapy.’