Blood cancers

How T-cells affect survival in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma

Thursday, 6 Apr 2017

Can you describe the aim of your research in 10 words?

Attempting to understand how our T cells react to lymphoma

What have you discovered/achieved in this area so far?

I have established in a number of previous papers that an effective immune response to a patients tumour prior to initial chemotherapy can identify patients with exceptional outcome whereas patients with a poor immune response seem to do poorly with current standard therapy. This current research wanted to look in more depth at the exact type of T cell response that is responsible for different patient outcomes. We utilised a cutting-edge sequencing technology to sequence every T cell surrounding a lymphoma tumour to see if these cells were part of a single clone of T cells or a heterogeneous population. This allowed us to look at thousands of T cells in the tumour microenvironment. I still cannot believe the information this technology provides.

What aspect of this research excites you the most?

This data appears to show that, at least in lymphoma, a more diverse population of T cells surrounding a tumour is associated with a better outcome than a population made up of large clones. It raises the possibility that a tumour can evade a vigorous immune response by a small number of dominant clones but has difficulty escaping from a wide breath of T cell clones. One assumes that after effective chemotherapy, the dominant clones of T cells may have lost their antigen and the immune system depends on previously small clones to “mop” up the remaining tumour cells. The next stage of this technology will be exciting. It is hoped we may be able to match lymphoma mutations with a specific T cell. It is also possible to look at T cells across lymphoma patients to see if any clones are shared and if these shared clones indicate a potential common response to tumours. This could allow the generation of patient/ tumour specific T cells for transfer as a therapy.

What’s your Holy Grail – the one thing you’d like to achieve in your research career?

To contribute work that helps even one patient be cured of their disease and get on with a normal life. I think that would be real success. Hopefully our work to date has shown the important role that immune therapy can make in B cell lymphomas and will inspire us and others to countinue trying these new agents in patients who require it most.

What is your biggest research hurdle?

Funding and the efforts to secure funding eating into time for real research.

Who has inspired you in work or life?

I think my patients are pretty inspiring. It amazes me how resilient people can be in the most difficult circumstances. Outside of that I have lot of respect for Irish journalists David Walsh and Paul Kimmage who, at great personal expense, pursued the truth about Lance Armstrong.

Describe your perfect day.

Any day at Noosa with the family!

If you could only keep three possessions, what would they be?

My laptop as I enjoy working on the go; a Kindle to store as many books as possible; my mobile phone simply because I have UptoDate installed on it.

Can you nominate a book that resonated with you?

The Road by Cormac McCarthy was an inspiring story about human resilience and father/son relationships.

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