Immune cells in the spotlight

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Distribution of immune cells in the body of a mouse, imaged with optical imaging

Distribution of immune cells in the body of a mouse, imaged with optical imaging © S. Gran & L. Honold et al./Theranostics 2018(8)

How do immune cells behave in the body? What happens during immunotherapy, which is designed to encourage the body’s own immune system to attack a disease? To answer these questions, the European Union (EU) brings together leading experts from research and the pharmaceutical industry. The Europe-wide research project "Immune-Image", which is funded with 30 million euros over five years and in which scientists from the University of Münster are involved, started on 1 October. The researchers at Münster University will receive 1.9 million euros for their research in the field of biomedical imaging.

They have been working for years on techniques that enable them to visualize the dynamics and interactions of immune cells in living organisms in the best possible way. For this purpose, the scientists and their international colleagues use for example positron emission tomography and optical imaging. A major goal of the new project is to develop suitable methods for monitoring immune cells before, during and after immune treatment. The researchers will initially look at the processes in animal models for different diseases - with the aim of translating the results and methods to patients mid-term enabling them to establish image-guided immunotherapies with improved efficacy in diseases such as cancer or inflammation.

Currently, ten academic institutions, four small-to-medium sized enterprises, seven pharmaceutical companies and one patient organization are involved in the EU project. At Münster University, scientists from four different institutes of the Faculty of Medicine and the Department of Chemistry are involved. Their joint ideas and preliminary work have emerged also from their collaborations at the Cells in Motion Interfaculty Centre at Münster University, an interfaculty network focusing on cell dynamics and imaging. Prof. Michael Schäfers and Prof. Andreas Jacobs from the European Institute for Molecular Imaging at the University of Münster are in charge of the project participation of the working groups from Münster.

The project “Immune-Image” is coordinated by Prof. Albert D. Windhorst, Amsterdam University Medical Center, The Netherlands, with scientific project leadership from F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd, Basel, Switzerland. The project has received funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking (JU) under grant agreement No 831514. The JU receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), each of them investing 15 million euros in the project.

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