Grégory Ehx appointed FNRS Research associate at the University of Liège
Grégory Ehx, a Doctor of Science and researcher within the GIGA-I3 - Infection Immunity and Inflammation - research group (GIGA / Faculty of Medicine) at the University of Liège, has been awarded a Research associate mandate by the FNRS (The Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research) to pursue his research in the fields of immunology and hematology.
régory Ehx is focusing his research on acute myeloid leukemia (AML), an aggressive form of blood cancer that leads to the death of half of the young and most elderly patients. Currently, AML is treated mainly with chemotherapy. While most patients respond well to the treatment and go into remission, a significant proportion relapse, with cancer cells becoming resistant to the previous treatment. So it is urgent to find another way of fighting cancer. One possible approach is to promote eradicating cancer cells by the immune system, a new therapeutic option for treating AML.
"In my research project, I aim to eliminate the cells that have survived the first chemotherapy, as they are responsible for relapse. In my previous work, I focused on the protein fragments (peptides) presented by the major histocompatibility complex molecules of AML cells. I have developed a technique for discovering peptides specifically presented by leukemia cells, which could potentially be targeted by a vaccine to educate immune cells to eliminate cancer cells". Considering the success of the messenger RNA vaccines used during the COVID-19 pandemic, such a vaccine for AML would represent a significant improvement for patients with AML.
"However, I also realized that the cells that survive chemotherapy are very different from those present at diagnosis," adds Gégory Ehx. They reprogram the expression of their genes, and this reprogramming can affect the peptides they present. Therefore, we need to study the peptides of chemotherapy-resistant cells in detail to find the perfect vaccine target.” Using a computer program he created, the researcher can identify which peptides derive from biological processes that specifically enable AML cells to survive chemotherapy. "These peptides will be the targets of our vaccine. Thereby, we will turn chemoresistance against leukemia cells.”
There is one last obstacle to overcome. It is well known that cancer cells can defend themselves against immune cells. "They do this by expressing proteins that deactivate the immune cells, allowing them to escape. Therefore, we need to identify and deactivate these proteins to maximize the effects of our vaccine.” In this way, the researchers aim to leave no chance for cancer cells and to prevent them from mediating relapse. "The major advantage is that our vaccine will target chemotherapy resistance mechanisms. Since these mechanisms are common to other cancers, our vaccine could also treat other cancers, such as colon, lung, or breast cancer."
Obtaining the position of Research associate from the FNRS will enable him to get the resources he needs to carry out his ambitious research program.
About Grégory Ehx
Originally from Liège, Grégory Ehx completed a Master's in Biochemistry and Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Liège. He then pursued a PhD in the haematology department of the GIGA (GIGA-I3 / ULiège), during which he worked on hematopoietic stem cell transplants. During his PhD, he identified several therapeutic strategies to reduce the severity of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a major complication of these transplants. After completing his doctorate, Grégory Ehx moved to Canada for a three-year post-doctorate in Claude Perreault’s laboratory at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC). There, he developed a passion for bioinformatics and began elaborating tools to design cancer vaccines. At the GIGA, he established his team in the Hematology Laboratory of the GIGA-I3 Research Unit, aiming to understand how AML cells interact with immune cells and develop new immunotherapies against this cancer.