Interview with Professor Francesco Dazzi (King’s College London) on the UKRMP Immunomodulation Hub

Written by Regenerative Medicine

Free to access Interview from the Regenerative Medicine Special Focus Issue

Francesco Dazzi, Regenerative & Heamatological Medicine, King’s College London, speaks to Elena Conroy, Regenerative Medicine Commissioning Editor.

After graduation from Padua University in 1984, Professor Dazzi trained as a haemato-oncologist and obtained a PhD in Experimental Oncology. In 1996 he moved to the Royal Postgraduate Medical School (now Imperial College) and in 2007 he was appointed as Chair of Stem Cell Biology. Francesco Dazzi is an internationally recognised figure in the biology and clinical applications of cell therapies including stem cell transplantation. In the late 1990s, he established a highly successful programme focussed on immunological cell therapies for leukaemia. More recently, based on his discovery that mesenchymal stromal cells exhibit immunomodulatory activities, he developed a nationwide clinical programme for the use of these cells to control unwanted immune responses in transplantation. He recently joined King’s college London as Professor of Regenerative Medicine and Lead of Cellular Therapies at KCL, which is the largest initiative of its kind in Europe.

How did you initially become interested in regenerative medicine?

I am a clinical Haematologist by training but my research interest has always revolved around Immunology. More than 10 years ago, whilst looking into new modalities to treat the immunological complications related to haemopoietic stem cell transplantation I came across an exciting observation; that bone marrow mesenchymal stromal cells are potent regulators of inflammatory responses and, by resetting the host microenvironment, they can promote tissue repair. This was a paradigm shift in regenerative medicine because it highlighted the possibility that tissue regeneration could be achieved not only by the adoptive transfer of donor stem cells but also by stimulating residual host stem cells by modulating the inflammatory microenvironment. Since the primary observation, I developed a UK based MSC clinical programme for treating a number of inflammatory degenerative ailments, from graft-versus-host disease to multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s and organ transplant rejection.

How did you become involved with the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform?

The Medical Research Council organised a meeting to probe the interest of the UK scientific community in delivering a platform in different areas of regenerative medicine. My background in immunology fit perfectly with the remit of the Immunotolerance Hub. Since I was on the verge of joining King’s there was the unique opportunity of partnering with Prof Fiona Watt to catalise the interesta group of researchers across the country from different background and initiate this exciting multidisciplinary initiative. Fiona and I lead this hub and we have recently been joined by Dr Curtis Asante, who left an editorial role at Nature Publishing Group to coordinate the hub.

What is the Immunomodulation hub? What are the aims of the Immunohub?

The immunomodulation Hub comprises a team of 12 scientists that come from diverse clinical and non-clinical research backgrounds. Collectively, we provide expertise in tissues for which there is an unmet clinical need for regenerative treatments, in innate and adaptive immunity and in whole organ transplantation. We have brought together researchers already involved in clinical trials of cell therapies and researchers with relevant models of endogenous tissue repair. Our expertise spans both adult tissue and pluripotent stem cells. We have also included partners with a background in cancer research because of the potential insights into regenerative medicine that can emerge from tumour immunobiology. Most of us have not worked together previously but our planned research involves pooling our collective knowledge and sharing experimental tools to answer three key questions in regenerative medicine. Firstly, we want to know how differentiated cells signal to the host innate and adaptive immune system. Secondly, we want to determine how transplanted cells provoke adaptive immune responses and thirdly, we want to know how inflammatory mediators contribute to endogenous repair and influence the fate of transplanted cells.

Read the full, free-to-access interview here.