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Reprogramming immune cells to improve treatment options for glioma patients 

Fast facts

  • Official title: Reprogramming glioma-associated myeloid cells to enable effective immunotherapy
  • Lead researcher: Dr Tyler Miller
  • Where: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute / Massachusetts General Hospital
  • When: October 2023 – September 2027
  • Cost: £600,000 over 4 years
  • Research type: Glioblastoma (High grade), Academic, Immunotherapy, Junior Fellowship 
  • Award type: Future Leaders – Junior Fellowship

Myeloid cells (of which there are many types) are a type of white blood cell that play important roles in the immune system and the body’s defence against infections.  

Normally, these cells are programmed to initiate the body’s immune response against tumours. However, researchers have discovered that myeloid cells within gliomas actually become immunosuppressive, meaning that they block the immune system from attacking the tumour cells, thus allowing the tumour to grow. These immunosuppressive cells can prevent some treatments, such as immunotherapy, from working. Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer, usually by stimulating an immune response, which attacks the tumour.

What is it?

Dr Miller’s previous work focused on extensively profiling the myeloid cells within gliomas to understand the different types of cell present and what each of them do. From this, he was able to identify which type of cells were immunosuppressive. Using a new technique to understand which cell types are connected and where they come from, Dr Miller discovered that many of the cells that suppress the immune response actually start in the bone marrow and move into the tumour.  

Targeting these immunosuppressive cells in gliomas represents an opportunity to sensitise brain tumours to immunotherapy. However, we don’t yet know how these cells become immunosuppressive. In the next phase of this research, Dr Miller will combine the cell profiling data with the multiple cutting-edge models that he’s developed – these are experimental systems that recreate particular aspects of biology in a lab environment – to 1. Understand how certain myeloid cells become immunosuppressive in gliomas and 2. Create strategies to target this immunosuppression.  

The overall aim of this work is ultimately reprogramming immune cells to make gliomas sensitive to immunotherapy, which has the potential to extend survival and provide hope to patients and their families. 

Why it’s important

The prognosis for glioblastoma patients is currently very poor. These tumours are fast-growing and do not respond well to immunotherapy. The data gathered from these studies will provide researchers with new information to aid the development of treatments to treat glioblastoma and ultimately improve the outcome for patients. 

These studies will provide valuable data needed to develop targeted therapies designed to reduce immunosuppression in myeloid cells, and increase the efficacy of immunotherapy for brain cancer patients.

– Dr Tyler Miller

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Dr. Tyler Miller

Dr. Tyler Miller is a Research Fellow at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA. Tyler is mentored by Professor Bradley Bernstein.