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Researchers at UOA investigate new cancer treatment technology

In partnership with the University of Liverpool and the University of Southampton, Aberdeen colleagues examine the role of the immune system in cancer prevention.


By James Wilson


Photo: Olga Kononenko on Unsplash


University of Aberdeen associates recently did research on a molecule known as CTLA-4, which works within the immune system to prevent it becoming overactive at the end of a normal immune response. It is also subverted by cancer cells to prevent the immune system from attacking them.


Antibodies which target CTLA-4 have been developed, and the results show the possibility for treating various cancers. However, issues with immune toxicity were also noted in the study.


The study also focused on an overlooked form of this molecule which is released from the cell, known as soluble CTLA-4, or sCTLA-4. The researchers tested the effectiveness of an antibody on this cell and found that tumours expressing sCTLA-4 inhibited the activity of cytotoxic cancer-killing T-cells leading to cancer growing and spreading more rapidly.


However, when the researchers blocked sCTLA-4 with a specific antibody, this suppression was reversed, and the T-cells were able to find and attack the cancer.


Dr Frank Ward, who helped develop this technology at the University of Aberdeen stated:


“Immunotherapy relies on boosting immunity to destroy cancers, so it is important to identify and remove molecules that help cancers escape detection by the immune system.”

“Together with my colleagues, Lekh Dahal and Paul Kennedy at the University of Liverpool and Professor Mark Cragg at the Cancer Immunology Centre in Southampton, we have shown that when cancers produce sCTLA-4, they grow faster and so selectively blocking its activity should allow an effective route to improved immunotherapies.”


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