Oxford is ranked top in Europe for immunology research and is home to 85 research groups seeking to build on this standard of excellence and apply it to all aspect of our understanding of cancer.
Usually, the body’s immune system acts to prevent, control and eliminate threats, such as diseases and its own malfunctioning cells. Cancer is only able to grow and metastasise uncontrollably due to its ability to evade these safety measures. If we are able to understand how cancer cells are able to do this, we can apply more sensitive techniques for detecting cancer earlier, develop novel strategies for preventing it from happening, and deploy treatments that safely destroy cancer cells.
Oxford is ranked top in Europe for immunology research, much of this expertise naturally lends itself to understanding cancer. These researchers study the relationships between cancer and immune cells, and how they are mediated within the tumour. This research represents a significant opportunity for improving our ability to understand tumour behaviour. Internationally leading capabilities include;
Oxford’s 85 immunology groups are spread across the city with hubs at the Dunn School of Pathology, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (MRC Human Immunology and Molecular Haematology units), and Ludwig, Kennedy, Jenner and Medawar Institutes. By integrating all of their insights into our programmes, a novel comprehensive model of tumour behaviour will be developed. See our Developments in Immuno-oncology theme for more information on how our expertise is being applied to cancer.
For more information about the general applications of Immunology in Oxford research, see the Oxford Immunology Network website.
Globally, infection is one of the leading causes of cancer, especially in the developing world where it is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths. Developing novel approaches which enable researchers to pinpoint the mechanisms by which viruses and bacteria are involved in the establishment, growth and spread of cancer is the subject of intense study in Oxford. This research is critical in informing vaccination and public health policy for better understood pathogens (e.g. HPV and cervical cancer). In addition, improving the understanding of interactions between digestive tract commensal bacteria (microbiome) and tumours is likely to have significant implications for how we prevent, detect and treat a range of cancers.
Understanding the molecular mechanisms that sense tissue damage and trigger danger signals, and how tissue inflammation is linked to various pathologies including cancer is the subject of intense study across Oxford. Alterations in tissue and cell metabolism often accompany the development of cancer, and are potential therapeutic targets, as are cancer-specific host and microbiotic metabolites – some of which can be detected by specifically by the immune system.
By understanding more about the properties of viruses, researchers are moving closer to being able to unlock their potential as therapeutics. Vaccines not only play a role in preventing infection-driven cancers, but can also trigger immune responses that directly target cancer cells, or change the immune environment to one that favours the activation of inhibited effector cells. In addition, oncolytic viruses can destroy cancer cells directly by the lytic stage of their life cycle.
Reprogramming immune cells and molecules to counteract tumours that are able to evade the immune system is an approach that we are only starting to see the full potential of as a therapeutic tool. Successful reprogramming that safely and specifically targets cancer cells requires a detailed understanding of how these molecules and cells operate in the context of the tissue microenvironment in both health and disease. Research seeking to understand this will lead to new approaches and therapeutic combinations required for developing new cancer cures.
To investigate the complexity and dynamic nature of the immune system and its interactions with healthy and diseased or infected tissue, Oxford researchers are forming multidisciplinary groups that integrate multimodal big-data generating technologies, experimental biology and modelling approaches. and platforms to experiment on and fully comprehend them. We are pioneering new approaches that lead to both better understanding of biological mechanism and to new tool to predict biological behaviour from the nanoscale to populations.
Understanding the mechanisms by which immune receptors guide T and B-cells to eliminate pathogens is critical to understanding how cancer cells are detected and targeted for destruction, and how autoimmune disease can be propagated and organ transplants rejected. It is crucial for rational design of vaccines and receptor-based immunotherapies including monoclonal antibody and cell therapies and is central to our understanding of whether provoking specific immune responses will be a help or a hinderance in various disease settings.
In this theme
• Infection & Microbiome
• Inflammation & Immunometabolism
• Vaccines & Lytic Viruses
• Cellular Therapies & Biological Therapies
• Systems Immunology & Immunotyping
• Immune Specificity
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Find out more about Oxford projects in our immunology theme that are tackling the below cancer challenges