The development of new approaches to enhance cellular anti-tumor immunity represents one of the most significant medical advances in the last decade. Recent research results showed that signals of the peripheral nervous system participate in the regulation of cellular anti-tumor immune responses. In his research project, Professor Thomas Tüting, Director of the Department of Dermatology at the Magdeburg University Medical Center, builds upon these observations. Together with a team of young scientists he will investigate the influence of the peripheral nervous system on the interaction between tumor and immune cells. The project aims to further improve the effectiveness of current cancer immunotherapies. It is funded by the German Cancer Aid within the framework of an excellence funding program with more than 1.2 million euros for a period of 5 years. This funding program provides established, excellent scientists the necessary freedom to pursue new ideas for the prevention, diagnosis and therapy of cancer.
"We now know that the nervous system plays a role in cancer development and metastatic progression. Neuronal signals also affect immune responses. That's why we want to better understand the mechanisms by which cells of the nervous and immune systems communicate with each other in tumor tissues and thereby directly influence tumor growth and the formation of metastasis in other organs," explains Professor Tüting.
The researchers hypothesize that peripheral neurons release specific molecular messengers that limit anti-tumor immune responses through receptors on cell surfaces and instead support a chronic tumor growth promoting inflammation. Therapeutic blockade of these neuro-immune checkpoints holds the potential to improve the success of cancer immunotherapies.
In his research project, Prof. Tüting relies on interdisciplinary collaborations and the strengths of the Magdeburg research environment in the areas of immunology and the neurosciences. "We are working closely with scientists at the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Immunology and the neighboring Leibniz Institute of Neurobiology," explains Prof. Tüting. In their experiments, the researchers will employ state-of-the-art microscopic imaging techniques and novel genetic methods that enable the visualization of dynamic interactions between neurons, immune cells and neoplastic cells in the tumor microenvironment in high resolution. “In Magdeburg we are in a very strong position in research areas that are extremely important for our project,” emphasizes Professor Tüting.
Professor Tüting serves as head of the Department of Dermatology at the Magdeburg University Medical Center since 2015. Previously, he worked in the Department of Dermatology at the Bonn University Medical Center. He completed medical school at the Goethe University in Frankfurt/Main and his residency training at the Mainz University Medical Center. In a number of research projects he developed new experimental models and methods to better understand the role of the immune system in cancer development with a focus on cutaneous melanoma. Prof. Tüting is one of the spokespersons of the Magdeburg Else-Kröner Research College. As a board certified dermatologist he is additionally specialized in allergic diseases, medical cancer therapies and dermatopathology.
As part of its new “Program of Excellence for Established Scientists”, the German Cancer Aid funds a total of six particularly innovative, but also “daring” projects (“high risk - high gain”). “Our aim is to provide researchers with the necessary financial freedom and the time to implement pioneering ideas for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancers and to follow new conceptual paths,” says Gerd Nettekove, the Chairman of the Board of the German Cancer Aid. “We believe that there is the possibility of a significant gain in knowledge and the potential for decisive advances in cancer medicine.” The German Cancer Aid has provided a total of around 8.7 million euros for five years for the program.