Over the last few years, immunotherapy – harnessing the power and specificity of the immune system to treat disease – has revolutionised cancer treatment.
Interaction and collaboration between clinicians and immunology research scientists is crucial to progressing this field, and it’s this concept that underpinned the establishment of the Melbourne Immunotherapy Network (MIN).
Spearheaded by University of Melbourne Professor Dale Godfrey, an immunologist at the Doherty Institute, MIN is a multi-institutional research network. They host regular meetings and public forums, including an annual winter conference, to bring together more than 100 scientists and clinicians from the medical research community.
“Despite many meetings where clinicians get together, and others where immunologists convene, there weren’t many opportunities for these two groups to converge on a large scale,” explains Professor Godfrey.
“When treating patients, clinicians are interested in what is happening to the immune system when cancer lesions are present, but their knowledge of the immune system and its many components is sometimes limited.
“So bringing the two groups together can yield new collaborations that will help us gain a much better understanding of the immune system in the context of cancer patients receiving immunotherapy - what happens when it works well and what goes wrong when it fails.”
At the first MIN meeting in 2016, Professor Jonathon Cebon, an oncologist from the Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Centre (ONJ CRC) was discussing a molecule that is frequently overexpressed in human melanoma. This led to a collaboration with Professor Godfrey’s team at the Doherty Institute including Dr Adam Uldrich, and researchers at the ONJ CRC including Dr Andreas Behren and Professor Cebon, and the pharmaceutical company CSL. The collaboration has provided a fundamental advance in understanding how a population of human T cells can detect and respond to this target molecule that they hope may ultimately lead to new and improved forms of immunotherapy.
“There are a growing number of similar collaborations that have been initiated through MIN meetings and we are confident that these will enrich our understanding of immunotherapy and ultimately result in improved patient outcomes.”