The power within: how the immune system targets cancer cells
University of Birmingham
Tel: 0121 414 9533
About Benjamin Willcox
Dr Benjamin Willcox is based at the University of Birmingham, where he is studying how our immune system protects us against cancer. This exciting and important work should lead to new treatments that can boost the body’s defences against the disease.
Our immune system protects us by recognising bacteria and other parasites that are ‘foreign’, and attacking them. Because cancer cells develop from the body’s own cells, they aren’t ‘foreign’. But scientists have discovered that immune cells known as T-cells can sometimes recognise cancer cells and kill them.
But this ‘early warning system’ isn’t foolproof – many cancers go ’under the radar’ and start growing and spreading. Dr Willcox is working to understand how T-cells recognise cancer cells, aiming to develop new treatments that can increase their protective effect.
Recognising cancer cells
Dr Willcox and his team have already made an important breakthrough, discovering a key molecule found on the surface of cancer cells that ‘flags’ them to the immune system. The scientists are now searching for more of these molecules, and finding out exactly how T-cells recognise them.
We know that this is a promising approach, as clinical trials in patients with prostate and other cancers have shown that it is possible to boost T-cells' ability to recognise cancer cells. Dr Willcox’s work will take this research to the next level, helping to find new ways to harness the power of the immune system to beat cancer.
Other research projects by Benjamin Willcox
Funding period: 01 June 2010 to 31 May 2013