Cancer research

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Cancer immunotherapies harness the power of the immune system to fight cancer. They unleash the immune system’s ability to recognise and eliminate cancer cells, wherever they are in the body.

Associate Professor Radford and her team are focused on creating an ‘anti-tumour vaccine’ which would enable the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells and eliminate them from the body.

Their research focuses on a specialised type of white blood cell called a dendritic cell. Dendritic cells are comprised of distinct cell subsets that are highly specialized in driving specific immune responses. They are the initiators and orchestrators of the immune response, including the tumour-specific responses requires to eliminate cancer cells.

The team have identified a rare subtype of dendritic cell that is critical for activating the immune response to fight cancer.

Associate Professor Radford is well advanced with her cancer vaccine research, using dendritic cells to deliver a new cancer treatment.

This prototype vaccine targets very precisely the key dendritic cell subset required for the initiation of tumour specific immune responses, thereby maximising potential efficacy while minimising side-effects.

In 2005 Associate Professor Radford developed and delivered a novel vaccine for cancer, which was translated into a first-in-man Phase 1 clinical trial for metastatic prostate cancer. The trial was conducted at Mater between 2005-2015.  The original vaccine was safe and feasible, but it required isolation of the patients’ own blood cells for generation, thereby making it an expensive medicine to personalise.  The results from this trial informed the design of the current vaccine.

A major highlight for Associate Professor Radford and her team has been the first description of a rare human immune cell subtype, which is now considered crucial for activating the body’s own immune system to recognise and fight cancer.

The next stage of the research has been the development of a new vaccine which very specifically harnesses these specialised cancer-fighting immune cells. This can occur without requiring the removal of the patients’ blood, making it potentially more effective, practical and safer than cancer vaccines currently in clinical trial.

This long-term project is now one step away from human trials.

This vaccine research has recently received significant media attention as the research was rated the number one by the World Economic Forum’s good news stories for 2020.

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It is hoped that this vaccine will be relevant to a range of cancers. The team have already identified two targets that are present across a broad swathe of cancers including breast, ovarian, prostate, bladder, head and neck cancers, leukaemia, metastatic melanomas and many more. Work continues to identify new potential targets.