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Tumour immunology laboratory

Laboratory overview

Tumour Immunology Laboratory (TIL) is interested in understanding the extent of engagement between all parts of the immune system and a tumour and how this immune-tumour interaction can be qualified and quantified. The TIL is mainly interested in melanoma, lung cancer, colorectal cancer and prostate cancer; but has worked successfully in breast cancer and lymphoma projects.

The firm conviction of someday being able to utilise each individual patient’s immune system as an “in-built” personalized anti-cancer drug that can adapt to ever evolving cancer cells is what inspires my lab every day. Dr Andreas Behren, Head, Tumour Immunology Laboratory
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Our focus

We constantly use and develop improved cutting-edge methodologies, including multiplex immuno-fluorescence and RNA-Scope for the characterization of the tumour microenvironment, protein arrays for the detection of cancer-specific antibodies, and in vitro T cell assays for the detection of novel immunogenic peptides, among others. This ‘immunostaging’ of cancers will allow us to understand why and how immunotherapy works for some patients but not for others, and how we can increase the number of patients that benefit from these treatments. The laboratory is extensively experienced in clinical trial monitoring and collaborative industry projects, which are all centered on improving outcomes and quality of life for cancer patients. We collaborate with several leading cancer research laboratories in Australia and worldwide, which is reflected in the selected publications.

Quick Facts

What is tumour-immune engagement?

Tumour cells often look very different to the immune system when compared to healthy cells. To avoid subsequent destruction, tumours often use a variety of strategies to overcome or to ‘hide’ from an immune response. This interaction of tumour cells with a large variety of immune cells can be more or less pronounced and can be good or bad for the tumour itself. The quality and quantity of these interactions can be measured on multiple levels, which all together represent the tumour-immune engagement. 

What are cancer-specific antibodies?

Antibodies are proteins produced by a subtype of immune cells that can specifically recognize, bind and often neutralize antigens that the immune system recognizes as foreign or a threat (e.g. viruses or bacteria). In cancer, specific antibodies are produced as a response to antigens on cancer cells that are different than those on normal cells. While their function in the immune recognition of cancer is unclear, their detection in the blood indicates the presence of cancer cells.

Halse H, Colebatch AJ, Petrone P, Henderson MA, Mills JK, Snow H, Westwood JA, Sandhu S, Raleigh JM, Behren A, Cebon J, Darcy PK, Kershaw MH, McArthur GA, Gyorki DE, Neeson PJ. Multiplex immunohistochemistry accurately defines the immune context of metastatic melanoma. Sci Rep. 2018 Jul 24;8(1):11158. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-28944-3.

Tsao SC, Wang J, Wang Y, Behren A, Cebon J, Trau M. Characterising the phenotypic evolution of circulating tumour cells during treatment. Nat Commun. 2018 Apr 16;9(1):1482. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-03725-8.

Da Gama Duarte J, Parakh S, Andrews MC, Woods K, Pasam A, Tutuka C, Ostrouska S, Blackburn JM, Behren A, Cebon J. Autoantibodies May Predict Immune-Related Toxicity: Results from a Phase I Study of Intralesional Bacillus Calmette-Guérin followed by Ipilimumab in Patients with Advanced Metastatic Melanoma. Front Immunol. 2018 Mar 2;9:411. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2018.00411. eCollection 2018.

Da Gama Duarte J, Woods K, Andrews MC, Behren A. The good, the (not so) bad and the ugly of immune homeostasis in melanoma. Immunol Cell Biol. 2018 Feb 2. doi: 10.1111/imcb.12001. [Epub ahead of print] Review.

Tutuka CSA, Andrews MC, Mariadason JM, Ioannidis P, Hudson C, Cebon J, Behren A.PLX8394, a new generation BRAF inhibitor, selectively inhibits BRAF in colonic adenocarcinoma cells and prevents paradoxical MAPK pathway activation. Mol Cancer. 2017 Jun 28;16(1):112. doi: 10.1186/s12943-017-0684-x.

Vella LJ, Behren A, Coleman B, Greening DW, Hill AF, Cebon J. Intercellular Resistance to BRAF Inhibition Can Be Mediated by Extracellular Vesicle-Associated PDGFRβ. Neoplasia. 2017 Sep 27;19(11):932-940. doi: 10.1016/j.neo.2017.07.002. [Epub ahead of print]

Burr ML, Sparbier CE, Chan YC, Williamson JC, Woods K, Beavis PA, Lam EYN, Henderson MA, Bell CC, Stolzenburg S, Gilan O, Bloor S, Noori T, Morgens DW, Bassik MC, Neeson PJ, Behren A, Darcy PK, Dawson SJ, Voskoboinik I, Trapani JA, Cebon J, Lehner PJ, Dawson MA. CMTM6 maintains the expression of PD-L1 and regulates anti-tumour immunity. Nature. 2017 Sep 7;549(7670):101-105. doi: 10.1038/nature23643. Epub 2017 Aug 16.

Hayward NK, Wilmott JS, Waddell N, Johansson PA, …, Behren A, Kefford RF, Hersey P, Long GV, Cebon J, Shackleton M, Spillane AJ, Saw RPM, López-Bigas N, Pearson JV, Thompson JF, Scolyer RA, Mann GJ. Whole-genome landscapes of melanoma subtypes. Nature. 2017 May 11;545(7653):175-180. doi: 10.1038/nature22071. Epub 2017 May 3.

Woods, K, Knights, AJ, Anaka, M, Schittenhelm, RB, Purcell, AW, Behren, A and Cebon, J. 2016. Mismatch in epitope specificities between IFNgamma inflamed and uninflamed conditions leads to escape from T lymphocyte killing in melanoma. J Immunother Cancer 2016; 4, 10.

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