Manipulating GABA signalling to enhance immunotherapy

Dr Yury Bogdanov

Dr Yury Bogdanov.


Immunotherapy is an exciting area of research that harnesses the body’s immune system to fight cancer. Therapies developed are already showing great promise; however, they’re not effective for every patient. In some cases, tumours can fight back, adapting to become resistant to the immune response.

Certain cancers, including bowel, pancreatic, ovarian and breast, produce a molecule called gamma-aminobutyric acid – or GABA for short. GABA is better known for its role as a neurotransmitter, and is important for communication within the nervous system. However, GABA can also suppress our immune system, and is believed to be produced by some tumours to protect them from attack.

Dr Yury Bogdanov's lab is trying to determine exactly where GABA is produced in these tumours, its targets in the immune system, and the mechanism by which it suppresses the immune system. His team aims to reduce the effect of GABA on the immune system, by blocking the molecules that GABA latches on to. They hope that this will reduce the effects of GABA and make the tumour more susceptible to immunotherapy.

Fortunately, there are already approved drugs that regulate GABA in a wide range of neurological conditions. The team hopes to be able to repurpose such drugs in these experiments to enhance cancer treatment. This would considerably shorten the treatment approval process and could result in a rapid change in clinical practice.

Ultimately, this research could improve immunotherapy, and lead to improved outcomes for patients with a wide range of cancers.