Improving cancer killing with live cell therapy

Lead researcher

Prof Jose Villadangos, Prof William Heath

Prof Jose Villadangos, Prof William Heath

The University of Melbourne

Tumour type:
Leukaemia, Lymphoma

Years funded

Project description

The development of therapeutic strategies harnessing the immune system to destroy cancer is gaining strong momentum across the world. Adoptive cell therapy (ACT) is an exciting example of this approach, through which tumour cells are destroyed by an infusion of anti-tumour killer T cells.

Over 100 clinical trials of ACT have been completed or are ongoing. The results in some cases have been excellent - especially for the treatment of haematological malignancies - but less successful in others. The main reason for failure is the impaired expansion and/ or survival of the transferred T cells. The goal of this project is to find solutions to these shortcomings and to increase the therapy's effectiveness.

What is the need? 

Although it still has some limitations, ACT has been shown to be a visable anti-tumour therapy and has received strong backing from researchers, clinicians, and commercial companies.

We believe we have identified particular molecules and molecular interactions that impact ACT's overall effectiveness. We will now investigate this further and develop strategies to broaden and maximise the use of ACT. 

What impact will this research have?

Cancer treatment already employs multi-pronged attacks using chemicals, irradiation, surgery, etc. Over time more and more treatments will be developed that can be tailored to treat the specific cancer of each individual patient. Immunotherapy is the most recent addition to the group of therapeutic strategies available. ACT is expected to become a mainstream treatment in the not too distant future and our research will help make this a reality.


Project timeline

20162017 2018 
Analysis of parameters (affinity, avidity, target density) that influence ACT outcomes. 

   Development of gene targeting strategies to manufacture optimised CTL for pre-clinical studies of ACT.

Characterisation of CTL-tumour cell interactions in vivo.  

Application of genetically engineered CTL for pre-clinical optimisation in ACT and prevention of auto-immune reactions.


"We will describe strategies to maximise the efficacy of 'adoptive cell therapy' against cancer. Our conclusions will be directly applicable in the clinic."