Therapeutically remodelling the immune profile of ‘cold’ tumours in obesity associated cancer

Dr. Melissa Conroy
Dr. Melissa Conroy

People with cancer of the food-pipe (oesophageal cancer) receive treatments that only work for 30% of people. Therefore, approximately 70% of people with oesophageal cancer will not benefit from chemo-radiotherapy and urgently need new treatments. Our immune system is designed to kill cancer cells, but in people who have cancer the immune system is weakened.


Natural killer (NK) cells destroy cancer cells. But in obese oesophageal cancer patients, NK cells are pulled into the visceral fat by a protein called fractalkine. Once in the fat, NK cells are profoundly altered and die before they can reach the tumour.

In oesophageal tumours, the highest obesity levels are linked to the lowest numbers of NK cells. We know a drug called a CX3CR1 antagonist targets the action of fractalkine and can block fractalkine from pulling NK cells into the fat.

Now Dr. Conroy and her team of researchers will test whether this drug can free NK cells from the fat so that they could move towards and kill oesophageal cancer cells. Through their research we’ll also learn if NK cell therapies can be changed to bypass the fat and boost tumour destruction in oesophageal cancer.

Ultimately, we’ll learn if two new immunotherapies can improve survival in oesophageal cancer.

Caroline Marion is the PhD student working with Dr Conroy on this project.

Caroline Marion

In this video Dr. Conroy explains how this research will work:


Start year
End year
Principal Investigator
Dr. Melissa Conroy
Trinity College Dublin
Grant Funding
5 For The Fight Cancer Immunology Fellowship
Linked To Breakthrough Cancer Research Priorities
1, 3, 4

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