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„Cancer inhibitors“ in immune therapy: initiation of a promising research project
Cancer is characterised by uncontrolled cell growth, which can spread to otherwise healthy tissue and organs. Only five to ten percent of cancers are caused by inherited genetics, the majority of the cases are triggered by external factors such as tobacco consumption, diet, infections, or radiation. These external factors may induce so-called epigenetic changes, which may result in cancer cells being no longer recognised by the immune system. Cancer cells are thus “hidden” from the immune system.
However, some of these epigenetic changes are reversible, and that’s where  scientists are focusing current investigations.ing . Utilising inhibitory compounds (in short, inhibitors) allows the prevention of these changes and reactivates previously deactivated genes, so that the immune system can repeat action and remove degenerated cells.
The „Epigenetics of Immunity in Cancer“ (EPIC) project was started in September 2019, focusing on Histone Deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors. The research team comprises of chemists, clinicians, biologists, and bioinformaticians from the universities of Udine, Salzburg, and Trieste, as well as the Institute for Biomedicine at Eurac Research in Bolzano. The team is testing the effect of HDAC inhibitors in cancer cells and their suppressive role in tumor progression. In particular, the University of Udine is checking HDAC inhibition based on a library of HDAC compounds, while the University of Trieste is optimising promising compounds with the aid of computer programmes followed by their synthesis. At the University of Salzburg, selected inhibitors are being tested in cell models with respect to their influence on the immune system. Data generated by all partners is shared with bioinformaticians at Eurac Research, who are tasked with their analysis. Invoking next generation sequencing methods, the differences between cancer cells with and without inhibitors are measured: which genes are active, where are they active and what consequences  these compounds could have in the human organism. Data obtained from theses analyses are compared to international databases in order to gain additional knowledge on cancer development. In this way, the three-year long project is aiming to create the basis for novel advances in cancer immune therapy.

Image: Nucleosome (Credits: Christian Weichenberger)

Contact: Christian Weichenberger, christian.weichenberger@eurac.edu, T +39 0471 055533

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