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Young Laboratory: Immunotherapy

The Young laboratory studies the way in which the immune system can be harnessed for cancer treatment. While traditional vaccines act prophylactically to prevent disease, tumour immunotherapies act to enhance the immune responses in patients that already have the disease in order to kill cancer cells. Inducing an immune response against cancer is an attractive strategy because it has the potential to selectively destroy tumour tissue, and generate immunological memory for that particular cancer to prevent recurrence.

With a specific focus on active vaccination and T cell adoptive therapy, the team is developing immunotherapies as innovative treatments for cancer.

The team uses a novel construct for vaccination against cancer, a virus-like particle (VLP) derived from Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV). These VLP are non-replicative and safe, and can be engineered to include peptides from tumours for stimulating anti-tumour immunity. The VLP are developed to incorporate specific tumour associated peptides, in order to treat a variety of cancers.

Another strategy used for cancer immunotherapy is T cell therapy, where immune cells are grown outside the body to ‘learn’ how to attack tumours and then transferred back into an individual with an existing tumour.

For their research, the team uses cell culture, animal models and human tissue and collaborate with oncologists so that promising results can be readily refined for subsequent use in the clinic. 

The following cancer types are being targeted by the team with the developed immunotherapies showing promising results for further development:

Breast cancer

Supported by the Karen Louisa Foundation

Colorectal cancer

Supported by Freemasons New Zealand

Prostate cancer

Supported by the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand

Our key people

Associate Professor Sarah Young Principal Investigator

Dr Katrin Kramer Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr Silke Neumann Postdoctoral Fellow

Braeden Donaldson