Cellular immunology

Dr Scott Byrne, Head

The prevalence of skin cancer continues to rise despite increased awareness of the need to protect ourselves from the prime cause of skin cancer – sunlight. Clearly, preventing skin cancer by limiting the amount and type of sun exposure has been insufficient. In order to understand carcinogenesis we must study the mechanisms that allow tumours to establish – that is DNA damage and suppression of anti-tumour immunity. This is the core focus of Dr Scott Byrne and his group.

Dr Byrne’s team is investigating the mechanisms by which sunlight suppresses anti-tumour immune responses. In order for skin cancer to develop, two things must occur: DNA damage to cells, and suppression of the host anti-tumour immune response. The ultraviolet (UV) wavebands in sunlight cause both of these; sunlight is therefore one of the most potent and significant environmental carcinogens humans are exposed to.

While the DNA damaging properties of UV are relatively well characterised, the mechanisms by which UV suppresses the immune system are not understood. Dr Byrne and his team are investigating the role of UV-induced factors (called cytokines) in activating specific immune cells with regulatory activities.

Understanding the cellular and molecular pathways involved in skin cancer growth will greatly facilitate the design of novel therapeutics aimed at preventing UV-induced suppression of anti-tumour immune responses. This will make a major contribution to reducing the incidence of skin cancer in Australia.

The research team

  • Clare Beaugie, Research assistant
  • Carling Chan, Research assistant
  • Sarah Leighton, Honours student
  • Lai Fong Kok, Honours student

Featured image

Cross section of skin

Cross section of skin stained to identify interleukin-33 then visualised under a fluorescent microscope. Exposure to cancer-causing sunlight makes the skin produce a compound called interleukin-33 (shown in green). This compound can suppress the anti- tumour immune response. Researchers at the Dermatology Research Foundation are trying to figure out how the sun induces this compound so that we can design novel ways to prevent it.