Group leader Daniel Peeper will use his Advanced Grant to address a pressing clinical problem: how can we ensure that more cancer patients will be able to benefit from immunotherapy, and that they have a durable response? This relatively new treatment activates the patient's own immune system to fight cancer cells. Immunotherapy has already been achieving good results, but unfortunately a number of patients cannot benefit from the treatment yet because their tumors are resistant. Peeper and his colleagues will focus specifically on T cells, a special group of immune cells that can recognize and kill cancer cells. These T cells are often present in a tumor, but remain inactive. It is still largely unknown how this comes about. Using advanced techniques, Peeper will look for genes that play the leading part in this resistance. And even more importantly: he will investigate whether the immune system is activated again when you interfere with these genes.
This is group leader Bas van Steensel's third ERC Advanced Grant in a row. He is trying to understand cancer and DNA at a very fundamental level. With this new grant, his team will investigate why our DNA is so messy. There are parts of DNA in our genetic code that can turn genes on or off. Those gas pedals and brakes are often located at random distances from the genes they control. Upstream, downstream, far away, close by... It is completely unclear how such a seemingly chaotic system results in a properly functioning cell. Bas van Steensel's team will be developing a method to make pieces of DNA jump around a gene. This will allow him to find out how the position of such a gas pedal or brake, for example, affects its function. This will help gain a greater understanding of what goes wrong in cancer cells that display many changes in the DNA.