Pint of Science – The War On Cancer


On Monday 18th May, Professor Peter Johnson and Dr Chern Lee from the University of Southampton Cancer Sciences Research Group at Southampton General Hospital will be at The Juniper Berry in Castle Square, talking about their research in lymphoma and cancer immunology.

Professor Peter Johnson conducts research into cancer and the immune system. It’s been suspected for a while that it should be possible to get your immune system to fight cancer, but the problem is that cancer is made up of your own human body cells, so you would need to find a way to get the immune system to recognize it as hostile. This is what Prof Johnson does. He has seen dramatic changes in the clinic with experiments and trials, with melanoma (skin cancer), and lung cancer. Your immune system includes cells called “killer” T-cells, or T lymphocytes, which kill foreign cells in your body – to get your immune system to fight cancer, you need to get your T cells to recognize it as foreign. Peter explains how we have learned ways to acheive this; through clinical experiments, a lot has been learned about the feedback loops of the immune system – if you get ill, your immune system flares into action, and as you recover, it has to calm back down and switch off. Instead, you want to keep some of the switches in the “on” position, he explains, so that your T-cells are still working. To acheive this, you use antibodies that fix to the surface cell receptors that would otherwise act as “off switches”.

Even during his training as a medical doctor, Peter tells me, he thought there must be better ways of treating people with cancer than poisoning their bodies with chemicals or radiation. He also had a fascination with the immune system and how it works, and went on to specialize in lymphoma, cancer of the immune system. He went on to work as a Registrar in Medical Oncology at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, before moving to Leeds as a senior lecturer, and then Southampton as a professor. He now spends a lot of time fundraising, both for Cancer Research UK, and for the Centre for Cancer Immunology here in Southampton, planned for 2017. His week is divided between seeing patients in Southampton, consulting with them about their treatment, or talking to new prospective patients about clinical trials, and working at the CRUK headquarters in London.

On Monday 18th May, Peter Johnson will be talking about the work going on at the Cancer Sciences Research Group, and the promising clinical results they have acheived so far. He will be joined by Dr Chern Lee, clinical reserch fellow working at Southampton in lymphoma. To join them, book tickets at and head to The Juniper Berry next Monday.

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Physics student and regular freelance science communicator, shooting for the stars. I'm your Science Editor and with the help of a team of talented writers, strive to bring you the most interesting and relevant science stories.

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