Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Professor Michael Dustin and an international team of collaborators have been awarded a €10M grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to develop a new biotechnology around supramolecular attack particles (SMAPs) engineered to kill cancer cells.

Collage of Michael Dustin and Stefan Balint

Pioneering work into basic immunological mechanisms, led by Dr. Stefan Balint and Professor Michael Dustin at the Kennedy Institute, seeded the €10M Synergy grant from the ERC.  The project entitled Analysis of the T cell’s tactical arsenal for cancer killing (ATTACK) will be carried out by Professors Jens Rettig (U. Saarland), Cosima Baldari (U. Siena), M. Dustin (U. Oxford) and Salvatore Valitutti (U. Toulouse), with each contributing equally.

In recent years, the success of immunotherapies for cancer has drawn the attention of researchers and global industry to cytotoxic T cells, which protect the body by killing infected and cancerous cells. However, there are still many limitations to current immunotherapy approaches, including high costs, dependence on the integrity of the patient immune system, and cancer cell resistance to treatment. The ERC-funded project ATTACK will develop a new biotechnology inspired by the cytotoxic machinery of T cells toward the goal of efficient and accessible cancer treatment.

“Our discovery of SMAPs as new way for T cells to attack infected or cancerous cells was made with support from an ERC Advanced Grant to our lab. The challenges posed by the new biology of SMAPs were too great for any individual lab so we are excited to now join with a team of scientists from across Europe to learn the secrets of SMAPs, which appear to be molecular bombs, and to guide engineered SMAPs to better kill cancer cells,” said Professor M. Dustin, Director of Research at the Kennedy Institute. 

The four scientists will combine their diverse expertise and unique preliminary findings to form a “super-lab” to make more potent T cells for cellular therapies, SMAP based biologic therapies and synthetic SMAPs.

The synergy team will be working together through four “work-packages”. Each researcher will lead one work package and at the same time support the other ones through free flow of information and joint experiments, providing a holistic view of how SMAPs can contribute to a long and healthy life. The four groups will investigate how SMAPs are made (Baldari), how they are released (Rettig), how they work (M. Dustin) and how cancer cells respond (Valitutti).

This new molecularly defined cytotoxic pathway may be able to address the current limitations of cancer immunotherapies and have a transformative global health impact. The research team envisage other successful applications beyond killing pathogenic cells, for example, as building blocks in regenerative medicine.

The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Synergy grants provide small teams of scientists with resources to work together on ambitious, cutting-edge problems that they could not solve individually. 

Similar stories

Matthew Costa elected Fellow of Academy of Medical Sciences

Matthew Costa, Professor of Orthopaedic Trauma Surgery at NDORMS, has been elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.

COVID-19’s high blood clot risk

A recent study of patient health records found that around 1 in 100 people with COVID-19 had a venal or arterial thrombosis, with rates higher still among males, and particularly for those hospitalised.

REF 2021 results for medical research in Oxford

Today the UK Funding Bodies have published the outcomes of the recent national research assessment exercise, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021.

Nurses' Day 2022

Today marks Nurses' Day 2022. This year's theme is #BestofNursing, so we chatted to some of our amazing Research Nurses about what the Best of Nursing means to them.

Rethinking pain management after injury

NDORMS researchers are to study whether a pain management treatment using cognitive behavioural therapy will improve recovery for people who have had a major leg injury.

Breakthrough in treatment for Dupuytren’s disease

Injection of the anti-TNF drug adalimumab into Dupuytren’s disease nodules is effective in reducing nodule hardness and nodule size.