Tabi team tackle T-cells

September 1, 2009

JHMRF is sponsoring ground-breaking research into how the immune system can be stimulated into fighting mesothelioma. Trustee Kate Hill visited Dr Zsuzsanna Tabi at the Velindre Hospital in Cardiff to see how the work is progressing.

Dr Tabi and colleagues Drs Aled Clayton and Saly Al-Taei are investigating how the body’s immune system manufactures special cells called T-cells in response to unwelcome pathogens. These are important agents in fighting disease because they latch onto markers (called antigens) on the surface of infected or abnormal cells, and destroy them. It is known that cancers evade the natural defences of the body but how they do this is not fully understood. Dr Tabi’s work is investigating the way this happens in mesothelioma.

Dr Tabi’s team has defined an antigen, named 5T4, found on mesothelioma cells (and also in some other cancer types) in larger amounts than on normal cells. This discovery has enabled them to isolate the tumour cells from the fluid that collects around the lungs in mesothelioma patients (known as pleural effusion). They have recently completed experiments to find the most efficient ways to generate powerful and highly specific T cells that can recognise this antigen and kill the tumour cells it is present on.

In another project, Dr Aled Clayton is studying exosomes, (small vesicles of around 30-90nm diameter) produced by both normal and cancerous cells. These tiny particles have traditionally been regarded as cell waste products but Dr Clayton has discovered they have important roles in biological processes. Under certain conditions, some exosome types produced by healthy cells can activate immune responses, while the exosomes made by cancer cells, such as mesothelioma cells, can stop T cells working optimally.

This is an important finding because it could tell us more about the way cancer cells protect themselves from the immune system, leading perhaps to new immunological approaches to treating, diagnosing and monitoring cancer.

Zsuzsanna Tabi and her team have demonstrated considerable commitment to working in a rare disease like mesothelioma. The majority of funding for mesothelioma research comes from charitable sources, without guarantee of ongoing support and is dependent largely on the generosity of donors. The road leading to effective treatments for mesothelioma is a long and difficult one with many twists, turns and blind alleys. The Fund is dedicated to supporting crucial work like that of Dr Tabi in the hope of a brighter future for people with mesothelioma.