Radiotherapy vs. the immune system

Symbolic picture for the article. The link opens the image in a large view.
Dr. Michael Rückert. Picture: Ann-Sophie Flohr

As part of our innate immune system, the complement system plays a role in destroying tumor cells. Paradoxically however, an activated complement system can also also promote the growth and formation of metastases in certain types of tumors such as sarcomas. How radiotherapy influences the complement system is now the subject of research being carried out by a consortium that researcher Dr. Michael Rückert is a member of.

FAU researcher receives funding from Federal Ministry of Education and Research to investigate effects of radiotherapy on the immune system

Dr. Michael Rückert is head of the working group “Systemic anti-tumor immune responses” in the Translational Radiobiology team at the Department of Radiation Oncology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU). The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the project called “Influence of (densely) ionizing radiation on the immunomodulatory effect of the complement system: New perspectives for health protection and tumor therapy (ENDORSE)”. This includes funding for three working groups from three institutions at a total of 1.7 million euros.

Closing important gaps in knowledge

Michael Rückert’s sub-project has received just over 580,000 euros of this funding. With his team, Rückert is investigating which cells within a tumor release the more than 40 different complement proteins and how they are activated after radiation and bind to tumor cells. This process attracts immune cells to the tumor and labels tumor cells so that macrophages can then eliminate them. “It is important to investigate which sub-types of antigen presenting cells and macrophages play a role here”, explains Michael Rückert. This is a decisive factor for whether tumor growth is promoted further or whether an immune response against the tumor is expedited. In addition, the research consortium is investigating how radiotherapies affect the anti-tumor immune response of metastases when the complement system is activated.
“The aim of the consortium’s research project is to close important gaps in our understanding of the effects of radiation on the immune system,” explains Michael Rückert. “We hope to improve radiotherapy in this way, particularly for sarcomas.” Furthermore, the consortium hopes to gain important findings in radiation protection. “For example, how significant the possible risks to health are including the potential development of secondary tumors after exposure to radiation.”

The research consortium

Dr. Michael Rückert is deputy coordinator of the consortium which he is contributing to as head of a work package in conjunction with the Translational Radiobiology team (Prof. Udo Gaipl) at the Department of Radiation Oncology, Universitätsklinikum Erlangen. Prof. Claudia Fournier (Helmholtzzentrum GSI, Darmstadt) is coordinator of the ENDORSE research consortium. The Translational Oncology department at the University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz gGmbH (TRON) is also a partner in the consortium. Other work packages are being managed by Dr. Fulvia Vascotto (TRON), Prof. Claudia Fournier and Dr. Alexander Helm (both from GSI). Scientific support for the project is being provided by Humanitas University, Milan, and the Medical University of Vienna.

Further information:
Dr. Michael Rückert
Phone +49 9131 85-44948