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Institute of Immunity and Transplantation

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Hans Stauss

Professor of Tumour Immunology
Director, Institute of Immunity & Transplantation
Co-director, Division of Infection & Immunity

Research area

T cell immunology, with a particular focus on the role of the T cell receptor (TCR) in the recognition of cancer antigens.

Research programme

Research summary

Cancer is a major health problem worldwide with WHO projections predicting an increase in incidence by 57% from 14 million cases in 2012 to 22 million cases by 2032. We are interested in exploring the role of the immune system in tumour development, and whether novel forms of immunotherapy can be used to treat cancer.

The research of our group is focussed on T cell immunology, with a particular focus the role of the T cell receptor (TCR) in the recognition of cancer antigens. We were amongst the first to show that cytotoxic T cells can selectively attack cancer cells by recognising point mutations in transforming proteins expressed in tumours (J Exp Med. 1993; 177:1493). We have since developed strategies to isolate monoclonal TCR that are specific for tumour antigens, and we use these TCR for gene therapy to redirected the specificity of patient T cells and equip them with the ability to selectively recognize and attack cancer cells.

The use of TCR gene therapy to produce antigen-specific cytotoxic and helper T cells is one area of active research in our group. We also use TCR and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) gene transfer to produce antigen-specific regulatory T cells. This provides the opportunity to achieve highly selective immune suppression and treat autoimmune conditions without the need for systemic immune suppression.

We use gene transfer technologies to direct the functional profile of therapeutic T cells. We have developed genetic switches to enhance or suppress the metabolic activity of T cells, and this promote effector function or memory formation. Transfer of genes encoding transcription factors is used to drive Th1, Th2 or Th17 differentiation of adoptively transferred T cells. We perform studies with human T cells in vitro, and in immunodeficient mice in vivo. Murine models are used for mechanistic studies and to test therapeutic interventions in appropriate disease models.

Patient involvement

I work closely with my colleague Professor Emma Morris. We have active preclinical research programmes, and Emma is the chief investigator of clinical trials testing TCR gene therapy in patients. At present TCR gene therapy trials are open for patients with leukaemia and for patients who reactivate cytomegalovirus following haematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Additional TCR gene therapy trials are due to open soon.

Publications

Selected publications
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