Professor John Anderson
Professor John Anderson heads a research group in University College London’s Institute of Child Health. The team is working hard to improve treatments for children with cancer by harnessing the power of the body’s natural defences against disease.
Certain cells of the immune system, called T cells, have an inbuilt ability to fight tumours. Cancer cells manage to evade this by evolving ways to dodge detection and overthrow the attack, allowing the tumour to keep growing in spite of the attempted assaults.
But scientists are now able to boost the body’s anti-tumour defences in a variety of ways, a technique broadly called immunotherapy. One such method is to take out a patient’s T cells and tweak them genetically so that specifically hone in on certain ‘molecular flags’ present on tumour cells. The modified cells, known as CAR-T cells, are then put back inside the patient where they attack the cancer.
Professor Anderson and his team are developing this approach for children with a type of rare cancer called neuroblastoma. They’ve already tested their strategy in pre-clinical experiments, so they’re now trialling it in patients with the disease to make sure it’s safe and effective.