How the body fights back against cancer

1st March 2022

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New research from the Quadram Institute and the University of East Anglia reveals how our immune system can be triggered to attack cancer cells.

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, could help develop new approaches to treating people with leukaemia.

The team studied acute myeloid leukaemia – a blood cancer which is very difficult to treat.

The research was led by Dr Stuart Rushworth from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, in collaboration with Dr Naiara Beraza from the Quadram Institute and colleagues at the Earlham Institute and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (UK).The study identified a process of activating the immune system to fight the leukaemia cells.

The team found that immune cells known as macrophages could be programmed to attack the cancer cells through a protein known as STING (Stimulator of interferon genes), a well-established activator of the immune system. The team also discuss the potential impact this could have on future treatments.

Dr Stuart Rushworth, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Our results provide insight into how the immune system is able to be utilised to attack cancers if given the right signals.

“Patients often relapse following treatment for cancer, because small amounts of disease remain despite chemotherapy. Our research reveals that targeting this biological phenomenon could help eradicate the leukaemia from the bone marrow.”

The researchers identified these mechanisms in the bone marrow of leukaemia patients and mouse models of acute myeloid leukaemia.

Dr Rushworth said: “At present, sadly chemotherapy is often not enough to cure people of leukaemia. In the future, I hope our findings will help improve treatments for people with leukaemia by priming their immune response to help the chemotherapy drugs work better.”

Naiara BerazaDr Naiara Beraza at the Quadram institute, said: “In this study we have contributed to uncover a novel mechanism by which cancer cells control the body’s immune response to promote their own growth. This finding will enable future improved therapeutics to treat leukaemia.”

The study was funded by the Rosetrees Trust, the Big C, the UK Medical Research Council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Wellcome Trust.


LC3-associated phagocytosis in bone marrow macrophages suppresses acute myeloid leukemia progression through STING activation,
Jamie A Moore, Jayna J Mistry, Charlotte Hellmich, Rebecca H Horton, Edyta E Wojtowicz, Aisha Jibril, Matthew Jefferson, Thomas Wileman, Naiara Beraza, Kristian M Bowles, Stuart A Rushworth, Journal of Clinical Investigation e153157. doi: 10.1172/JCI153157

Related Targets

Targeting cancer


Related Research Groups

Berazza group

Naiara Beraza

Tom Wileman

Related Research Areas