New avenues for exploration are being revealed as microscopes expand their capabilities, delegates to the 19th International Microscopy Congress (IMC19) were told in September 2018. The human brain was the target of some of their focus.
Misty Jenkins is a National Health and Medical Research RD Wright fellow and laboratory head of the Immunology Division at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research (WEHI) in Melbourne, Australia.
She delivered the plenary talk – Understanding Serial Killers: Investigating the Function of Cytotoxic T Lymphocytes using Microscopy – on how microscope imaging techniques are being used to analyse killer T-cells in the body’s immune system. She said her work shows they could be modified to develop a cure for brain cancer.
“The job of T-cells is to destroy virus-infected cells or cancer cells, and in recent years targeting T-cells and in addition to surgery, and radiation and chemotherapy has become the fourth pillar of cancer therapy,” said Jenkins. “We're now entering a new whole new era in cancer treatment, so it's a really exciting time to be a cancer immunologist.”
Currently, Jenkins and her research team at WEHI are researching a type of adoptive T-cell immunotherapy called Chimeric Antigen Receptor T (CAR T), using cells that are genetically engineered from a patient’s own T-cells and that enlist and strengthen the power of a patient’s immune system to attack cancerous tumours.
“We used microscopy techniques to probe the behaviour of CAR T-cells, such as how long they interact with their targets, which has important consequences for the rest of the immune system,” said Jenkins. “We are now using CAR T-cell immunotherapy to treat a highly aggressive brain tumour called childhood Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, as well as Adult Glioblastoma, a rare tumour and one of the most challenging cancers to treat in all of oncology.”
Jenkins said a study carried out by the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation in 2014, showed brain cancer kills more children than any other disease, with 163 deaths in Australia between 2009-2013. Only 20% of people survive brain cancer. Compare that with other types of cancer, such as leukaemia or breast cancer which have a 90% survival rate.
“A neurosurgeon friend of mine approached me and said ‘Misty, I’m sick and tired of telling my patients they are going to die. What are you going to do about that?’ So when I looked into how aggressive and fatal brain tumours are in adults and children and how little research was being done to treat them, I decided to devote to life to combatting brain cancer.”
Also at the conference, Paul Kempen, a post-doctoral fellow from the Center for Nanomedicine and Theranostics at the Technical University of Denmark, discussed how microscopy has improved his understanding of the brain. He presented his research on how techniques such as tunnelling and scanning electron microscopy have been used to track the transport of fluids through the blood-brain barrier.
“Using a novel hybrid technique that combines both scanning electron microscopy and scanning transmission electron microscopy, we were able to significantly improve the throughput of gold nanoparticle localization and imaging in the brain, and could lead to more effective drug delivery techniques,” he said.
Reflections on IMC19 (Interview with Toshiaki Tanigaki)
Invited speaker Toshiaki Tanigaki from Hitachi’s Research & Development Group at the Center for Exploratory Research in Japan reflects on his experiences of IMC19.
“IMC19 has been the best the Congress I’ve attended so far. It’s a great location, wonderful hospitality, and the sessions are extremely well organized.
“Working in exploratory science, IMC19 offers a forum for learning about the latest research and developments in microscopy, and for identifying opportunities to collaborate with researchers from around the world.
“I was particularly impressed by the digital poster presentations – a very innovative and an effective way of presenting microscopy and microanalysis research.”
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