Samples loaded into an NMR instrument

The human body’s immune system is a powerhouse that prevents, controls and eliminates threats like pathogens, bacteria and viruses on a daily basis. However, the biological properties of tumour’s cells are different. Cancer tumours exhibit evasive mechanisms that make them resistant to this natural method of disease control. But what if the immune system could be engineered to target cancer cells, and use the body’s defences against cancerous cells?

Leveraging the bodies own defences against cancer has driven years of research into cancer immunology. Over the past few years, there has been increased interest in therapies that limit tumour evasion or promote the immune response to tumour cells.

However, there are still many challenges that need to be overcome. Immune response is limited by the patient and type of cancer, with some being more responsive to immunotherapies than others. This difference highlights the real need for basic, translational and clinical research to uncover mechanisms of action, identify novel targets and increase the efficacy of cancer immunotherapies.

Vials on a shelf within the laboratory

Immuno-Oncology Explained

Types of immunotherapy that help the immune system act against the cancer include:

  • Checkpoint inhibitors: drugs that help the immune system respond more strongly to a tumour. They work by releasing “brakes” that keep T cells (a white blood cell and part of the immune system) from killing cancer cells.
  • Adoptive cell transfer: a treatment that attempts to boost the natural ability of your T cells to fight cancer. In this treatment, T cells are taken from your tumor. Then those that are most active against your cancer are grown in large batches in the lab before being introduced back in to the body.
  • Monoclonal antibodies/therapeutic antibodies: immune system proteins produced in the lab and designed to attach to specific targets found on cancer cells. Some monoclonal antibodies mark cancer cells so that they will be better seen and destroyed by the immune system.
  • Treatment vaccines: work against cancer by boosting your immune system’s response to cancer cells.


Immuno-Oncology in Manchester

In Manchester, we are dedicated to tackling these research challenges. Researchers are interested in how tumours evade the immune system and how the immune system can be harnessed to target cancer cells. In conjunction with the Lydia Becker Institute for Immunology and Inflammation, and the Manchester Immuno-Oncology Network, the goal is to bring researchers and clinicians together to foster collaborations and solve some of the greatest challenges facing cancer immunology.


Immunotherapy has already helped to extend and save the lives of many individuals across the world. In combination with other therapies such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy, immunotherapy has the potential to provide a more personalised, precise and effective method of treating patients with potentially fewer side effects.


To find out more about immuno-oncology in Manchester, and to be added to the distribution list for events, please contact:

Professor Fiona Thistlethwaite

Professor Fiona Thistlethwaite has been working on bringing advanced T Cell therapies to patients and delivering advanced clinical trials. Read about her research in this Cancer Futures article: “Bringing Tomorrow’s Medicines to Patients Today

Where is our research performed?

Immuno-oncology researchers operate from the following facilities and centres across Manchester

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