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While a robust and appropriate T cell response is typically beneficial to the host during human infections, a weak or inappropriate response can be ineffective or even have a detrimental effect. Over the past two decades, Prof Tao Dong's research group has been working to understand the key factors required for efficient viral control by T cells in several different viral infections and cancers.

The primary focus of research in the Dong group is a type of white blood cell, called Cytotoxic T cells, which are responsible for clearing or killing the cells that have been infected by pathogens (such as viruses or bacteria) or otherwise damaged (such as mutated cancer cells). They aim to discover what happens to these important immune cells in patients who develop severe illness or cancer, why the T cells failed to control the development of the disease and whether there are ways to help them start working again.

With the help of state-of-the-art technologies available in the MRC TIDU and wider Oxford immunology network (particularly the CAMS Oxford Institute) they investigate the functional defects of cytotoxic T cells isolated from patients with different disease outcomes. Some of the aims of the lab include developing candidate therapeutics to revert T cell dysfunction in patients and informing more effective design of vaccines.

In 2020, the Dong group were among the first in the world to characterise SARS-CoV-2-specific responses of cytotoxic T cells in COVID patients. In the groups’ first, highly cited, paper on the topic, they studied T cell memory in COVID patients and identified several immunodominant epitopes (i.e. regions of proteins frequently recognised by the immune system). In recent years, the group has also established a pipeline to characterise cancer-specific T cells in tissues and has made progress towards identifying potential targets for cancer treatment.

Tao Dong

Translational Immunology

Tao Dong's research group investigates the functional aspects of antigen-specific cytotoxic T cells (CTL) with a focus on factors influencing CTL in virus infection and cancer control. They aim to understand key factors for efficient viral control and have developed evaluation platforms for antigen-specific T cells from tissue and blood. By integrating functional data with single-cell and T cell receptor repertoire analysis, they identify targets and pathways to enhance immune response, aiming to improve outcomes in diseases such as SARS-CoV-2 infection and cancer.

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