Realising the Benefit of Immunotherapy for Oesophageal Cancer Patients

Thomas Carroll is a DPhil student in Prof. Xin Lu’s lab at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (Oxford Branch)  (hosted within the Nuffield Department of Medicine). He did his undergraduate studies in Biochemistry and Classical Studies in Houston (Texas), with a focus on tumour biology, immunology, and bioethics. Thomas’ current project studies the potential benefits of using immunotherapy to treat Oesophageal Adenocarcinoma (OAC) with the aim of addressing the need for improved patient outcomes and more effective therapies in this difficult-to-treat form of cancer. The two main questions in this area of research are: First, is it possible to predict which OAC patients are going to benefit from immunotherapy; and second, how could immunotherapy be augmented to help patients who might not have otherwise benefitted.

Thomas’ work is based around an ongoing OAC immunotherapy clinical trial based at Oxford, and there are a team of researchers developing and delivering this study including trial and data managers, nurses, clinicians and technicians. Thomas is one of several researchers using samples collected during this trial in their research. Specifically, he uses a variety of cutting-edge sequencing technologies to analyse blood and tumour tissue, in the hope of identifying key molecular changes that can be used to identify which future patients will and will not benefit from these new, potentially curative treatments.

By finding predictors of positive responses to immunotherapy, the team hope to implement novel diagnostic tests to make sure patients are getting the best treatment option for their specific cancer and aren’t going through side-effects for a therapy from which they may not benefit. Additionally, being able to identify which patients are unresponsive is the first step in devising new strategies for sensitising them and broadening the benefits of treatment.

Thomas collaborates with a number of groups within Oxford, including the Department of Oncology (Prof. Mark Middleton), the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (Oxford Branch) (Prof. Xin Lu), and the Target Discovery Unit (hosted within the Nuffield Department of Medicine, with Prof. Benedikt Kessler.