Investigating why some melanoma patients are more responsive to immunotherapy

Dr Victoria Woodcock is a specialty registrar in Medical Oncology and a CRUK Oxford Centre Clinical Research Training Fellow (CRTF) undertaking a DPhil in Oncology, based in Vincenzo Cerundolo’s lab in the MRC Human Immunology Unit (MRC HIU) at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine. Victoria graduated from Warwick University Medical School in 2009 and has a postgraduate certificate in Oncology from the Institute of Cancer Research.

Victoria’s research is in the field of immune-oncology, investigating what underlies differential responses of cancer patients to immunotherapy treatment. Immunotherapy drugs are a relatively recent development, proving to be highly effective for some cancers such as metastatic melanoma but only in a small population of patients. Finding out what makes some responsive and others resistant is key to improving patient outcomes. Victoria is studying the effect of checkpoint inhibitor treatment on the peripheral immune response in patients with metastatic melanoma, focusing on the effect on tumour-specific T-cells. Using a combination of techniques including mass cytometry, MHC class I tetramers and single cell sequencing she is studying in depth how the immune system responds to treatment, and identifying differences between patients who do and don’t benefit from treatment. This work aims to uncover why some patients are more likely to be responsive to immunotherapy treatment.

Identifying markers in the blood predictive of response or resistance to immunotherapy has the potential to provide a non-invasive and early measure of whether the treatment is going to benefit an individual patient. Victoria says, “This could potentially spare some patients from receiving treatment and the risk of side-effects when they are unlikely to benefit and may also guide alternative more effective treatment strategies for them.”

In Oxford Victoria’s collaborators are Vincenzo Cerundolo, Giorgio Napolitani and Hashem Koohy (MRC HIU), Mark Middleton (Oncology). Internationally she works with Lars Ronn Olsen, and Christina Pedersen. She is funded by a CRUK Oxford Centre Clinical Research Training Fellowship, Cancer Research UK Programme Grant (#C399/A2291 to V.C) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

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