News & Events

Double CRUK fellowship success on MDSCs

Article Date: 01.06.14
Category: Clinical Trials

CIIC members Dr Carmela De Santo and Dr Frank Mussai were recently awarded prestigious fellowships from Cancer Research UK to pursue studies on the immunology of tumour immunosuppression. 

Dr De Santo, a basic scientist who joined the School of Cancer Sciences at the University of Birmingham around 12 months ago, obtained a 6 year Career Development Award, providing funding for herself and her team to investigate myeloid derived suppressor cells. Also known as MDSCs, this group of cells are thought to be powerful suppressors of immune responses, including those directed against the tumour itself. Her research programme is relevant to many cancers, but will focus significantly on acute myeloid leukaemia.

“I am delighted to have received this fellowship,” commented Dr De Santo. “It will allow me to expand my team and make major progress on how MDSCs suppress immune responses in AML and a range of other cancers. If we can understand this, then we are in a much better position to design strategies to overcome this, and in doing so increase anti-tumour immune responses.”

Dr Mussai, a consultant paediatric oncologist who trained both in the US and also at the University of Oxford, has a joint appointment in Birmingham, with his clinical work based at Birmingham Childrens’ Hospital, and his laboratory work at the University of Birmingham’s School of Cancer Sciences. Dr Mussai won a Clinician Scientist Award, funding a 4-year programme of research into the childhood cancer neuroblastoma. 

“Neuroblastoma is a nasty cancer, and part of the reason is that it is very clever at dampening down the immune response. For many tumours, including Neuroblastoma, we think MDSCs are playing a key role. My research programme aims to understand the mechanisms involved, and to test therapeutic strategies to reactivate the immune response – which might include drugs targeted at MDSCs, or antibodies to neutralise immunosuppressive molecules they produce.”

Prof Ben Willcox congratulated the pair on their recent success. ”Carmen and Frank are great additions to the CIIC grouping, strengthening our tumour microenvironment theme significantly. These awards are extremely well deserved. Carmen is arguably the UK’s leading expert on MDSCs, having trained in Vincenzo Bronte’s laboratory in Italy and in Enzo’s Cerundolo’s laboratory in Oxford. Frank has fantastic clinical and scientific credentials and is building up a strong research programme on immunosuppression in neuroblastoma.” Although they have independent research programmes, these will add value to each other, as Prof Willcox explained: “Carmen and Frank’s complementary scientific and clinical expertise means we have a real opportunity to build a strong bench-to-bedside research team in the area of tumour immunosuppression.” In fact, some of the most significant advances in cancer immunotherapy over the last few years have come from blocking routes by which tumours suppress anti-tumour immune responses. “There is every reason to hope that a greater understanding of tumour immunosuppression will lead to new strategies to unleash powerful immune responses against cancers,” he added.