ERC grant

Carl Figdor

Prof. Carl Figdor (Department of Tumor Immunology) has been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant of € 2.5 million. Carl Figdor will use this grant during the next five years to investigate new nano-vaccines in the patient's immune system against cancer.

Tumour cells survive and grow because they are not effectively recognized by the immune system as 'foreign' and are therefore not attacked and destroyed like most pathogens. We have already demonstrated the clinical value of dendritic cell (DC) vaccines that activate the immune system to fight cancer. Treating more than 300 patients with metastatic melanoma, we achieved extended survival in 40% of patients by maturing dendritic cells from the patient's blood in-vitro, loading them with cancer-specific antigens and re-injecting them into the patient. These DCs then activate tumour-specific T cells in the lymph nodes. Our success in this area of research makes us a world leader in dendritic cell immunotherapy. However, despite these encouraging results, more work needs to be done if this type of therapy is to move into routine cancer care.

Therefore the primary objective of the research detailed in this proposal is to significantly enhance cancer treatment efficacy by developing multifunctional nano-sized vaccine carriers that specifically target DCs and T cells in-vivo. If successful, this will also eliminate the costly in-vitro steps associated with current dendritic cell therapy

The recent discovery of pathogen recognition receptors on dendritic cells opens up the possibility of exploiting these receptors to target dendritic cells within the body. We will therefore develop highly functionalized, slow-release vaccine carriers that target DCs in this way. In order to directly activate tumour-specific T cells, we will develop highly flexible polyisocyanide polymers that mimic naturally occurring DCs. To functionalize these polymers, we aim to develop a revolutionary DNA-based bar-coding technique.

The project, entitled "PATHFINDER Mimicking pathogens: an integrated nano-medicine approach to develop intelligent cancer vaccines" is expected to lead to major advances in tumour immunotherapy.

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