The role of microRNAs in modulation of the immune escape of tumors

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Published: 4 Apr 2016
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Dr Barbara Seliger - Universitätsklinikum Halle , Saale, Germany

Dr Barbara Selliger introduces microRNAs, a novel field of biomarkers and cell regulatory molecules with immune modulatory effects.

Only in its initial phases, use microRNA shows clinical promise as means of observing and regulating the cell cycle behaviour of tumours.


3rd Immunotherapy of Cancer Conference (ITOC3)

The role of microRNAs in modulation of the immune escape of tumours

Dr Barbara Seliger - Universitätsklinikum Halle , Saale, Germany

We are working since many years on tumour immunologic questions, in particular we are interested in immune escape of tumours. In addition, the institute is running biomarker studies as well as doing flow cytometric analysis of tumour samples.

Could you tell us about what you’re working on at the moment?

Since a couple of years, more or less three years, we are heading now on microRNAs. MicroRNAs are small non-coding RNA molecules and these microRNAs have been identified actually as oncogenic and tumour suppressive microRNAs and our concept is that microRNAs are also involved in changing the immune responses of tumours and therefore that’s a reason why we are heading now into this microRNA business.

What have you found with regards to the oncogenic or the tumour suppressive nature of microRNA?

In the way we are believing or actually the long term aim of my institute and my group is to use these microRNAs not only as biomarkers for monitoring immune responses for therapies, but also as novel targets for immunotherapies.

Have you had any clinical success so far?

Not yet, actually the microRNA business is still in the kinderschuhe but, as I showed already in my presentation, we have identified some very interesting microRNAs which could be perhaps in the long run used as novel targets.

Is the RNA you work with naturally occurring or are you synthesising your own?

At the moment we are actually using natural microRNAs but on the basis once we would like to develop the stuff into the clinic we will use synthetic microRNAs.

Have these tests been in vitro?

What were they actually doing? This is a multifunctional process which we are developing. It’s on the one hand we are trying first of all to identify these immune suppressive or immune modulatory microRNAs and this is done by different methods but then you have to prove whether these microRNAs are really putative binders to the respective immune modulatory molecules and also affect their function. Then is done then in in vitro tissue cultures. We have developed a couple of assays also for this.

Do you think microRNAs could be used in the clinic as markers?

Yes, it has been actually demonstrated, for example, that exosomes contain microRNAs which then could be used also as markers for example.

What’s the take-home message on microRNAs now and what’s to come?

As I said, microRNA work at least in the field of immunotherapy is absolutely still in the kinderschuhe and there are not so many groups working on this. But in the long run it will be many, many groups who will work on this because they have a big potential. On the other hand, these microRNAs could tackle not only new modulatory molecules but also other molecules and this really has to be solved.