The Department of Immunology faculty members focus on interrogation of immune regulation in cancer with the goal of developing novel immune strategies to combat cancer.
Immunity is a complex system requiring the multifaceted interplay of various types of immune cells, which are controlled by negative and positive signals emanating from the tumor microenvironment. Department members work on innate and adaptive immune systems, with emphasis on tumor-associated immune suppression with the intention to target molecular and signaling pathways that control these processes.
Because innate immunity plays a critical role in early defense against tumors, the analysis of the signal pathways controlling the development and function and analysis of signal pathways via key activating receptors of natural killer cells (NKs) is a major focus of the department.
Analysis of immune dysfunction focuses on several cancer-related diseases, including large granular lymphocytic (LGL) leukemia and bone marrow failure in T-cell-LGL leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Tumor-associated immune suppression and the tumor microenvironment are also a major focus, where key faculty members have made seminal discoveries, particularly on the multiple phenotypes of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) and their mode of action.
The role of HDAC6 and HDAC11 in opposing roles of activating and suppressing antigen-presenting cells also provides a novel insight into transcriptional regulators that induce tolerance or immune reactivity against cancer. Such work has revolutionized current thinking of the immune response against cancer.
Targeted modulation of these suppressor mechanisms, combined with cell-based vaccines or peptides, are being actively investigated in animal and preclinical settings, with some already advancing to the clinic as phase I/II trials in patients with melanoma, sarcoma, renal cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer.
Allogeneic bone marrow transplantation is another key effort in the Cancer Center, and several members work together to identify new signal pathways such as PKC-theta, which specifically controls allogeneic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), and to address Th17 or T regulatory cells, which can be manipulated to enhance antitumor effects and repress GVHD. B-cell immunity and leukemogenesis is another area of research with myeloma and myeloid cell differentiation of equal importance for exploration.
Overall, the mix of basic and translational immunologists has galvanized a highly active research effort toward a wide spectrum of cancer immunity that ranges from the bench to the bedside.
Thus, our basic science discoveries form a rich pipeline for our translational efforts.
Immunology Department Members
Julie Y. Djeu, PhD