Unravelling the secret of a critical immune cell for cancer immunity

WEHI researchers have discovered a key differentiation process that provides an essential immune function in helping to control cancer and infectious diseases.

The research, published in Science Immunology, is the first to show a new factor — DC-SCRIPT — is required for the function a particular type of dendritic cell — called cDC1 — that is essential in controlling the immune response to infection.

Led by WEHI Professor Stephen Nutt, Dr Michael Chopin and Mr Shengbo Zhang, it defines the role for a new regulatory protein — DC-SCRIPT — in producing dendritic cells.

At a glance

  • WEHI researchers have uncovered a key step in the formation of a particular type of dendritic cell — called cDC1 — in controlling the immune response to infection.
  • The research highlights the importance of DC-SCRIPT in the production of effective dendritic cells.
  • Through gaining a better understanding of how dendritic cells are produced, researchers hope to be able to determine a way of directing the body to produce large numbers of dendritic cells, to enable it to better fight off cancer and infections.

DC-SCRIPT essential in the production of cancer-fighting cells

Dendritic cells are immune cells that activate ‘killer’ T cells, which are vital for clearing viral infections and for triggering a response to cancer tumours.

Through gaining a better understanding of how this process works, researchers hope to be able to determine a way of directing the body to produce large numbers of dendritic cells, to enable it to better fight off cancer and infections.

Professor Nutt said the research paper highlighted the importance of DC-SCRIPT in the production of effective dendritic cells.

“What we found, is that without this new factor, the cells develop poorly, and their capacity to fight infection and cancer, or to clear a parasite, is diminished,” he said.

“The next stage of our research is to try and work out how we can get the body to produce these particular dendritic cells, cDC1s, in large volumes in order to boost the body’s natural tumour response.”

Harnessing the body’s natural response to infection

Dr Chopin said he was confident cDC1s held the clues to improving immunity to viruses and tumours.

“This paper clearly shows DC-SCRIPT is one of the regulators of dendritic cell production. As a result of this study, we’re now focussed on ways we could harness this to increase dendritic cell production,” he said.

“We now have a biomarker to follow when we expand this elusive cell type, which we will continue to test in pre-clinical models.”

This research lays the foundation for future studies into dendritic cell production and their clinical applications in response to tumours.

“We have generated new tools, allowing us to trace these cells within the tumour and observe how they behave in the tumour environment,” Dr Chopin said. This work was made possible with funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Victorian Government.

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