Duygu Sağ, immunology group leader of Izmir Biomedicine and Genome Center (IBG), is one of the 15 promising women scientists recognized as International Rising Talents this year by the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science programme.

Triggering the immune system to fight cancer

While our immune system defends us against many diseases, it is less effective against cancer. Recent breakthroughs have found ways to increase the immune system’s ability to find and eliminate cancer cells, however, one critical immune cell type within the tumour environment, known as “macrophages”, has not yet been targeted successfully for immunotherapy. Macrophages can be either anti-inflammatory and promote tumour cell proliferation, or pro-inflammatory and fight the tumour. The tumour environment is usually dominated by tumour-promoting macrophages.

The mechanisms that govern the switch between these two types of macrophage are poorly understood. “We have recently made the exciting discovery,” says Prof. Duygu Sag, “that macrophages that lack the cholesterol transporter ABCG1 become potent tumour-fighting macrophages and inhibit the progression of bladder cancer in preclinical studies.” Her team is now working to discover the molecular mechanisms that trigger this switch from tumour-promoting to tumour-fighting macrophages. “This may lead to the development of novel immunotherapeutic approaches for the treatment of cancer,” she suggests. Prof. Sag’s commitment to science began in high school: “While other girls had posters of celebrities on their walls,” she says, “I had photos of famous biologists and scientific posters hanging all over my room.” She is hopeful that science can help overcome the unprecedented problems facing the world: “Our arsenal of scientific knowledge to tackle those problems is now also unprecedented.”

Source: en.unesco.org