Dr Ross Chapman welcomed as EMBO Young Investigator

Member of the CRUK Oxford Centre and Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics researcher Dr Ross Chapman has been selected as one of the European Molecular Biology Organisation’s Young Investigators for 2018.

The EMBO Young Investigator Programme identifies recent group leaders with a proven record of scientific excellence and offers them access to a range of benefits during their four-year tenure. These include an award of 15,000 euros, with the potential for additional funding, mentorship by a senior scientist from the community of EMBO Members, access to training in leadership skills and responsible research practices, as well as networking opportunities.

Additional benefits provided by the Programme include the use of core facilities at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, and travel grants for the Young Investigators and their research groups to attend conferences.

“The accepted candidates have all shown outstanding promise in their early careers and impressed our selection committee with both the quality of their current work and their proposals for future research:” said EMBO Director, Maria Leptin. “We look forward to supporting them in establishing their own research groups.”

Dr Ross Chapman commented: “I’m thrilled for having been selected as an EMBO Young Investigator. It’s going to be great to interact with a community of young scientists involved in exciting and cutting-edge research. I’m also very grateful for the benefits its going to bring to my group. The EMBO young investigator programme comes with lots of opportunities for my team members to interact with scientists across Europe, and also allows them to apply for travel grants and receive training. Most importantly, this support from EMBO is aimed towards increasing the visibility of my group’s research, and this is also going to profit the whole team.”

The 2018 group of Young Investigators comprises scientists based in 11 countries, including two European Molecular Biology Conference (EMBC) Associate Member States: India and Singapore.

The next application deadline is 1 April 2019. More information is available at http://www.embo.org/funding-awards/young-investigators

 

 

Content adapted from: https://www.medsci.ox.ac.uk/news/dr-ross-chapman-welcomed-as-embo-young-investigator

New dual-action cancer-killing virus

Scientists have equipped a virus that kills carcinoma cells with a protein so it can also target and kill adjacent cells that are tricked into shielding the cancer from the immune system.

It is the first time that cancer-associated fibroblasts within solid tumours – healthy cells that are tricked into protecting the cancer from the immune system and supplying it with growth factors and nutrients – have been specifically targeted in this way.

The researchers, who were primarily funded by the MRC and Cancer Research UK, say that if further safety testing is successful, the dual-action virus – which they have tested in human cancer samples and in mice – could be tested in humans with carcinomas as early as next year.

Currently, any therapy that kills the ‘tricked’ fibroblast cells may also kill fibroblasts throughout the body – for example in the bone marrow and skin – causing toxicity.

In this study, published in the journal Cancer Research, the researchers used a virus called enadenotucirev, which is already in clinical trials for treating carcinomas. It has been bred to infect only cancer cells, leaving healthy cells alone.

They added genetic instructions into the virus that caused infected cancer cells to produce a protein called a bispecific T-cell engager.

The protein was designed to bind to two types of cells and stick them together. In this case, one end was targeted to bind to fibroblasts. The other end specifically stuck to T cells – a type of immune cell that is responsible for killing defective cells. This triggered the T cells to kill the attached fibroblasts.

Dr Joshua Freedman, from the Department of Oncology at the University of Oxford, who was first author on the study said: “We hijacked the virus’s machinery so the T-cell engager would be made only in infected cancer cells and nowhere else in the body. The T-cell engager molecule is so powerful that it can activate immune cells inside the tumour, which are being supressed by the cancer, to attack the fibroblasts.”

Dr Kerry Fisher, from the Department of Oncology at the University of Oxford, who led the research said: “Even when most of the cancer cells in a carcinoma are killed, fibroblasts can protect the residual cancer cells and help them to recover and flourish. Until now, there has not been any way to kill both cancer cells and the fibroblasts protecting them at the same time, without harming the rest of the body.

“Our new technique to simultaneously target the fibroblasts while killing cancer cells with the virus could be an important step towards reducing immune system suppression within carcinomas and should kick-start the normal immune process.

“These viruses are already undergoing trials in people, so we hope our modified virus will be moving towards clinical trials as early as next year to find out if it is safe and effective in people with cancer.”

The scientists successfully tested the therapy on fresh human cancer samples collected from consenting patients, including solid prostate cancer tumours which reflect the complex make-up of real tumours. They also tested the virus on samples of healthy human bone marrow and found it did not cause toxicity or inappropriate T cell activation.

Dr Nathan Richardson, head of molecular and cellular medicine at the MRC said: “Immunotherapy is emerging as an exciting new approach to treating cancers. This innovative viral delivery system, which targets both the cancer and surrounding protective tissue, could improve outcomes for patients whose cancers are resistant to current treatments. Further clinical studies will be crucial to determine that the stimulation of the patient’s immune system does not produce unintended consequences”.

Dr Michelle Lockley, Cancer Research UK’s expert on immunotherapy, said: “Using the power of the body’s own immune system to tackle cancer is a growing area of research. This work in human tumour samples is encouraging, but can be complicated – one of the biggest challenges of immunotherapies is predicting how well they will work with the patient’s immune system, and understanding what the side effects could be. The next stage will be using clinical trials to test whether this is both a safe and effective way to treat the disease in people.”

The virus targets carcinomas, which are the most common type of cancer and start in cells in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs, such as the pancreas, colon, lungs, breasts, ovaries and prostate.

The study was funded by Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council, the Kay Kendall Leukaemia Fund and the Oxford NIHR Biomedical Research Centre. Materials were provided by PsiOxus Therapeutics Ltd.

 

 

 

Content adapted from the MRC website.