De Santo-Mussai research group

Carmela de Santo Francis    

The De Santo-Mussai research group at the University of Birmingham, UK is centred on understanding how adult and paediatric cancers interact with the immune system and suppress the anti-cancer immune response. We have demonstrated that Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells (MDSCs) play a pivotal role in the cross-talk between cancer cells and the immune microenvironment. Research projects investigating how adult cancers of significant unmet need, such as colon and, mesothelioma, lead to increased numbers and immunosuppressive activity of MDSCs in the blood and tumours of patients. These studies are led by Professor Gary Middleton. New therapeutic approaches which can modulate the function of MDSCs are being tested alongside national clinical trials.

Neuroblastoma is the most common extra-cranial solid malignancy of childhood. Patients with High-Risk disease have an extremely poor survival despite treatment with high chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and immunotherapy. Neuroblastoma has become the paradigm for novel immunotherapeutic approaches, including monoclonal antibodys and Chimeric-Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cells. However preclinical results have not been matched by clear clinical improvements in overall survival for patients. The group is investigating the mechanisms in which aberrant metabolism of essential nutrients, such as arginine, by neuroblastoma cells can alter the function of both autologous and engineered immunity. Novel treatment strategies to restore anti-neuroblastoma immunity are under development in partnership with academic and pharmaceutical collaborators.

Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) is the most frequent leukaemia in adults and the second most common leukaemia of childhood. Despite intensification of chemotherapy treatment, a significant number of patients will relapse and succumb to their disease. The mechanisms in which AML blasts create an immunosuppressive niche and halt normal haematopoiesis are currently under study in the group. Development of prognostic biomarkers and immunotherapies to modulate the immunosuppressive microenvironment are subject to ongoing research.

Research studies are carried out in collaboration with a number of local, national and international academic and pharmaceutical research collaborators. Early phase clinical trials based on the laboratory’s research are underway to try and improve patient outcomes.

We welcome enquiries interested in finding our more about our work or how to contribute to our research funding.