Research Fellows Directory
Professor Benjamin Willcox
University of Birmingham
Understanding and exploiting immune recognition of cellular stress
Lymphocyte populations play critical roles in immune recognition of cellular stress, contributing to both microbial and non-microbial stress surveillance. Compelling evidence suggests unconventional lymphocytes such as Natural Killer and gamma delta T cells are key players in this process, which underlies rapid responses to infection and contributes to cancer immunosurveillance. Understanding how such cell types recognise target cells presents new paradigms in immune recognition, and the possibility of new immunotherapeutic avenues targeting cancer or infectious disease. Our research focuses on defining the molecular mechanisms of lymphoid stress surveillance, and we have a strong interest in understanding critical receptor/ligand interactions. In particular, NK and gamma delta T cells rely on crucial receptors on their surface such as NKG2D and the gamma delta T cell receptor, respectively, to recognise signs of abnormality. A major research programme focuses on the role of gamma delta T cells, and we have ongoing efforts devoted to defining the gamma delta T cell receptor repertoire, to ligand identification, and understanding how ligands are regulated by microbial and non-micribial stress stimuli. In parallel, we have a strong interest in defining clinically important NKG2D ligands in human disease, and in understanding recognition of post-translationally modified MHC-restricted antigens that are associated with cancer. Synergising with our fundamental studies, we aim to harness gamma delta T cells for cancer immunotherapy, building on a range of clinical trials from other groups that have demonstrated safety and correlated objective clinical responses with expansion of the gamma delta subset.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)