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Huntington Lab research

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About Professor Nicholas Huntington

Prof. Huntington is the Head of the Cancer Immunotherapy Laboratory at the Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University, Australia.
With his high-impact research discoveries receiving recognition worldwide, Prof. Huntington is emerging as an international leader in the field of cancer immunology, specialising in natural killer (NK) cell biology with notable contributions to:

  • regulatory mechanisms of IL-15 signalling in NK cells,
  • identification of human and murine NK cell differentiation pathways,
  • novel xenograft models to study human NK cell biology and;
  • identification of multiple checkpoint in NK cell activation and tumour immunity.

Currently, Prof. Huntington leads a research program aimed at deciphering the regulatory networks that control NK cell development and homeostasis and a drug discovery program using cutting-edge in vivo screens for novel checkpoints in NK cell activation for targeting in cancer immunotherapy.
Prof. Huntington is President of MIN (Melbourne Immunotherapy Network), serves as project director for several pharmaceutical industry collaborative programs and is a co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of oNKo-Innate Pty Ltd.

Our research

Research activities

Our research focus is aimed at deciphering the regulatory networks that control NK cell development and homeostasis and a drug discovery program using cutting-edge in vivo screens for novel checkpoints in NK cell activation for targeting in cancer immunotherapy.

Current projects

    1. Transcriptional regulation of natural killer (NK) cell development
    2. Role of IL-15 on NK cell-dependent immunity and inflammation
    3. NK cell homeostasis and tolerance. Keeping killers in check.
    4. Dendritic cell - NK cell crosstalk in cancer immunity
    5. Computational analysis of NK cell activity and cancer cell immunogenicity in solid tumours
    6. NK cell single cell transcriptomics

    Click here to see a full listing of Professor Huntington's current projects at Monash.

NK cell and melanoma                          Immunotherapy of lung metastasis

Investigation and Development into Cancer Immunotherapy Strategies

Immune 'checkpoint' inhibitors can increase the activity of tumour-resident cytotoxic lymphocytes and have revolutionised cancer treatment. Current therapies block inhibitory pathways in tumour-infiltrating CD8+ T cells and recent studies have shown similar programs in other effector populations such as natural killer (NK) cells. Natural killer (NK) cells possess an innate ability to detect and kill malignant cells, as such NK cell activity is inversely correlated to cancer incidence, NK cell infiltration in tumours predicts cancer patient survival and NK cells specifically prevent cancer metastasis. However, the mechanisms underpinning how NK cells specifically recognise transformed cells and how tumours escape NK cell control, remain undefined. Our laboratory studies how NK cell development, homeostasis and function is regulated by transcription factors, growth factors, receptors and signalling molecules. The goal of these studies is to understand how to therapeutically harness NK cell anti-tumour immunity in cancer.

Watch Professor Nick Huntington, 2019 Jacques Miller Medal recipient, explain his cancer immunology approach for the Australian Academy of Science

Professor Huntington explaining cancer immunology advances

Using cutting-edge screens whereby each gene of the genome is deleted individually in white blood cells, Professor Huntington established that the gene Cish impaired white blood cells from responding to the growth factor, IL-15. By deleting Cish in NK cells, his team made a breakthrough discovery that Cish acted as a ‘checkpoint’ or switch that shutdown the ability of NK cells to become activated and kill cancer cells. As such, ablation of this gene in pre-clinical models prevented melanoma, breast, prostate and lung cancer metastases from developing and reduced the onset and growth of solid tumours including sarcomas, breast and colon cancer. The discovery’s breakthrough status was sealed when inhibiting Cish function alone was more effective than the current gold-standard immunotherapies that have revolutionised cancer outcomes.

Visit About Professor Huntington's Monash research profile to see a full listing of current projects.

Techniques/expertise

  • CRISPR screening;
  • scRNAseq
  • computational immunology
  • bioinformatics
  • functional genomics

Disease models

  • Pre-clinical cancer models
  • Xenograft models

Collaborations

We collaborate with many scientists and research organisations around the world. Click on the map to see the details for each of these collaborators (dive into specific publications and outputs by clicking on the dots).

oNKo-Innate Pty Ltd


STUDENT RESEARCH PROJECTS

The Huntington Lab offers a variety of Honours, Masters and PhD projects for students interested in joining our group. There are also a number of short-term research opportunities available.
You will find the current list of available projects here.