Neuro-immunology case study

Studying the immune landscape of brain tumours.

The problem

Gliomas are malignant brain tumours for which treatment options are extremely limited, and survival rates are very low.

Immunotherapy approaches that have revolutionised the treatment of other cancer types in recent years – such as colorectal cancer, breast cancer and melanoma – have poor efficacy in brain tumours, for poorly understood reasons.

New and improved treatments for gliomas are urgently required. Gaining greater understanding of the microenvironment of brain tumours will help us to find these new treatments.

Our work

Working closely with neurosurgeons and clinical pathologists in the Geoffrey Jefferson Brain Research Centre (GJBRC), we are using new technological approaches to analyse surgically-resected, clinically and molecularly characterised, human brain tumour samples.

Through our research, we aim to understand the composition and the organisation of the complex immune cell compartment within gliomas.

We want to identify how the interplay of specific immune cell populations with neoplastic cells and the brain tissue stromal cells affects glioma spread and progression, as well as cancer recurrence.

We also want to understand how these events undermine standard immune-based treatments.

Current questions under investigation by the combined neuro-immunology branch and the brain inflammation theme within the GJBRC include:

  • identifying how immune cell phenotypic and functional heterogeneity is established within the glioma microenvironment;
  • addressing the relative functions of specific immune cell subsets and populations in influencing the clinical trajectory of glioma;
  • defining the factors imprinting the immunosuppressive environment in glioma to repress the ability of immune cells to kill neoplastic cells;
  • mapping how the extracellular matrix is spatially remodelled within glioma to affect immune cell positioning and neoplastic cell spread throughout the brain;
  • assessing the changes in the architecture and cellular composition of primary and recurrent glioma.

We are able to access unique and highly-characterised human brain tumour samples, and have an integrated programme of work involving basic immunologists and clinicians.

This means we are exceptionally well-placed to make fundamentally important discoveries that will identify new potential therapeutic approaches for brain tumour treatment.