New step validating cancer immunotherapy research at Humanitas University

Alan Ghitis Association November 11, 2021

We are thrilled to share the successful journey of Valentina Ferrari, Alessia Melacarne, Francesca Algieri and Maria Rescigno from Humanitas University as their last abstract was approved for publication. It will appear in the Journal for Immunotherapy of Cancer, an international peer-reviewed journal.

Discoveries don’t happen overnight

If you are not accustomed to the world of research, this may not mean a lot to you. In simple terms: when an abstract is approved for publication, it means it has merits in the scientific community. Recognition in research is very important because it shows your work and theory are being taken seriously and could be effective. After the abstract, the next goal would be to have an entire paper approved.


Scientific discoveries don’t happen overnight, and different steps are needed before a research project leads to a treatment that can be used by patients. This is one of them!

This abstract was also reviewed and accepted by the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer for poster presentation at their 36th Annual Conference this coming November in Washington D.C, on top of the publication in their Journal. 

This is a huge step and The Alan Ghitis Association is thrilled to have allocated funds towards this research thanks to its generous donors. 

Microbial derivatives could be used to enhance clinical antitumor responses

We asked Valentina Ferrari to describe the topic of her research :

“The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend the body. An important component in keeping the body healthy is white blood cells, known as lymphocytes, of which T cells are key. This is because T cells, particularly those that are cytotoxic (killer), have the unique ability to recognize and eliminate anything that is foreign or does not belong, for example, a cancer cell.

To facilitate this process, most cells in the body display a flag on their surface, known as human leukocyte antigen (HLA), which can alert passing T cells that the cell in question is foreign and therefore needs to be eliminated. In the early stages of cancer development, T cells in the vicinity can see the foreign cells and remove them, effectively controlling tumor growth. However, some tumor cells develop the ability to hide the HLA flag under the cell surface, effectively becoming invisible to T cell surveillance.

Once this happens, tumor cells are free to grow unchecked. One way of helping the immune system control tumor growth is by finding substances that can force the tumor cells to re-express the HLA flag on their surface, allowing T cells to see and eliminate them.

Our data show that microbial derivatives (substances of bacterial origin) can induce HLA on the surface of tumor cells, which subsequently lead to an increase in T cells’ ability to kill them. In addition, we found that tumor-bearing mice that were treated with microbial derivatives, in combination with anti-PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy, had decreased tumor growth and an increase in killer T cells that were cancer-specific. These results suggest that microbial derivatives could be explored in combination with immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy (now used in clinics as both first and second-line cancer treatment) to enhance clinical antitumor responses.”

The team behind the research

Pr. Maria Rescigno is supervising a team that includes Valentina Ferrari – The Alan Ghitis Association is funding her work specifically. They still need funding to move forward, so consider donating if this topic matters to you.