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Professor Ann Ager

Professor Ann Ager

Professor of Cellular Immunity and Immunotherapy, Division of Infection and Immunity and Systems Immunity Research Institute

School of Medicine

Email
agera@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2068 8872
Campuses
3F08, Henry Wellcome Building for Biomedical Research, University Hospital of Wales, Heath Park, Cardiff, CF14 4XN

Overview

I am a cellular immunologist with more than 30 years’ experience studying how T- cells move around the body to maintain healthy tissues and control diseases such as infections, cancer, and neurodegeneration.

T-cells continually survey the body by moving in and out of lymphoid organs where signs of disease or tissue damage are detected.  Following activation, T-cells relocate via the bloodstream from lymphoid organs and home to the diseased organ where they can control the disease.

Our studies of T-cell trafficking have revealed novel approaches to boost immunity and protect our bodies against virus infections and cancers by increasing T-cell homing to diseased tissues.

As Chair Forum and a Trustee of the British Society for Immunology (BSI) and Council member of the International Union of Immunological Societies (IUIS), Ann is an advocate for Immunology to governments and other policymakers.

Biography

Career Summary

I gained a PhD from Cambridge University studying inflammatory responses in vascular endothelial cells and trained in microvascular endothelial cell biology with Professor Judah Folkman at Harvard Medical School during my post-doctoral studies. In 1983 I moved to the Department of Immunology, University of Manchester as a postdoctoral fellow working with Professor Bill Ford and started what has become my life-long interests in specialised high endothelial venule (HEV) blood vessels and T-cell homing in health and disease.  I gained an MRC Senior Fellowship in Manchester before moving to a Principal Investigator position at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research, London in 1992 where I began working on L-selectin/CD62L.  In 2007 I moved to the Division of Infection and Immunity, Cardiff University as a Reader and was awarded a personal chair in 2018. Since moving to Cardiff, my research has focussed on T-cell trafficking in diseases such as virus infection, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Current appointment:      

2018 -           Professor of Cellular Immunity and Immunotherapy, Infection and Immunity, Cardiff University

Honours and awards

1979 - 1980     BHF Travelling Fellow, Childrens’ Hosptial, Harvard Medical School, USA

2015-2018     President, UK Cell Adhesion Society (elected)

2019- 2022    British Society for Immunology, Chair of Forum (elected)

2019- 2022    British Society for Immunology, Member of Board of Trustees (elected)

2019- 2022    National Cancer Research Institute-British Society of Immunology Strategic Alliance, Deputy Chair

Professional memberships

Member of the British Society for Immunology

Founding member of the UK Cell Adhesion Society

Member of Cardiff Institute for Tissue Engineering and Repair (CITER)

Academic positions

B2007- 2018    Reader, Infection and Immunity, School of Medicine, Cardiff University

1992 - 2007   Senior Scientist, Division of Cellular Immunology, MRC National Institute for Medical Research,

1987 - 1992     MRC Senior Fellow, Immunology Department, University of Manchester

1983 - 1987     MRC Post-doctoral Fellow, Immunology Department, University of Manchester

1980 - 1983     BBSRC Post-doctoral Fellow, Department of Cell Biology, The Babraham Institute

Speaking engagements

Invited Speaker: Translating Tumour Immunotherapy

British Society for Immunology Virtual Conference:

‘Connecting Immunology in the time of Covid-19’

Dec 2020

Invited Faculty and Moderator

International Union of Immunological Societies Covid 19 webinar series

July 2020

Invited Chair: Optimising T cell homing

Onco Cell Therapy Virtual Summit

July 2020

Invited Speaker: Manipulating Homing and Activation of T-Cells to Improve Adoptive Cell Therapy for Cancer

5th Annual Immuno-Oncology Summit Europe

March 2020

Invited Speaker:

L-selectin enhanced T-cells and their impact on

cancer immunotherapy

4th Annual CAR-T Congress EU

Jan 2020

Invited Faculty and Chair:

Adoptive T cell therapy

17th International Congress of Immunology, Beijing, China

Oct 2019

Invited Faculty and Speaker: Altered Immune Surveillance in Inherited Cancers

Collaborative Group of the Americas on Gastrointestinal Cancer

Nov 2019

Invited speaker: Understanding peripheral immune cell-blood brain barrier cross-talk in dementia

ARUK Regional Meeting, Exeter,

June 2019

Invited Faculty and Speaker: Lymphocyte homing: getting lymphocytes to the right place at the right time

Henry Stewart Talks on Immunology

2019

Invited Speaker:

Directing the Traffic of Effector Lymphocytes: Breaking Down Dogma

Sun-Yat Sen University, Guangzhou, China

Oct 2017

Invited Visiting Scientist and Speaker:

Directing the traffic of T lymphocytes for effective cancer immunotherapy

Applied Tumour Biology Department, University Hospital of Heidelberg, Germany

Nov 2017

Scientific Organising Committee:

The Many Facets of Inflammation

Joint meeting of the UK Cell Adhesion Society and British Microcirculation Society, Birmingham, UK

Apr 2017

Invited Speaker:

Pros and Cons of Cancer Immunotherapies

Cancer Council New South Wales, Lowy Cancer Centre, Sydney, Australia

Mar 2017

Invited Speaker:

Regulating L-selectin expression during T cell homing: Getting to the right place at the right time

Haematology Department, Monash University, Melbourne,

Australia

Mar 2017

Invited Expert

Special Interest Group, Cell and Gene Therapy, Welsh Government

2017-

Research Committee Member

Cardiff Institute for Tissue Engineering and Repair

2016-2018

Invited Chair and Speaker:

Mapping Changes to Vascular Health in Alzheimer's Disease: The Role of EPHA1 Risk Alleles

Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, Toronto

Jul 2016

Invited Plenary speaker:

T lymphocyte homing in adoptive cell therapies for solid cancers

Biochemical Society: Chimeric Antigen Receptor therapy in Haematology and Oncology: Current Successes and Challenges, London

Sept 2015

Invited expert:

Manipulating T lymphocyte homing to improve cancer immunotherapies

Adoptive T-cell Therapy Congress, Kisaco Research, London

Mar 2015

Publications

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Teaching

External lectures:

Ager, A. (2020, October 29). Lymphocyte homing: getting lymphocytes to the right place at the right time. In The Biomedical & Life Sciences Collection, Henry Stewart Talks.   https://hstalks.com/bs/4445/.

Taught courses:

  • Deliver Student Selected Component (SSC) in Interactive Immunology to 2nd and 3rd year medical students (lead laboratory sessions, review student presentation, deliver lectures).
  • Deliver 3rd year BSc and Medical Intercalated Degree students in Pharmacology and Pathology (supervised 7 students’ laboratory projects; best project by Louise Rogers, 2017. Danial Saree, 2019)
  • Deliver taught Masters in Research (supervised 6 students and recruited one, Andrew Newman to study for a PhD under my supervision)
  • Develop teaching skills of my PhD students and PDRAs by supporting their supervision of final year B.Sc. project students in a co-supervisory role.

    Examining experience:

    • External examiner for Manchester University’s Master degrees in Immunology and Immunogenetics, (15-20 students p.a.) and Immunology by distance learning (5-10 students p.a.) 2012-2016 
    • External examiner of PhD theses for the Universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Dundee, Glasgow, Imperial College London, KCL, Oxford, Sheffield, Toronto and Australian National University

    T-cell homing in health and disease

    A major focus is the regulation of the homing receptor, L-selectin/CD62L, on T-cells and its impact on T-cell homing via specialized high endothelial venule (HEV) blood vessels.

    Unique reagents, experimental animal models and cell-based assays have been developed in the Ager lab and shown that the role of L-selectin on disease-infiltrating T-cells has been overlooked because of its’ instability in the T-cell membrane due to proteolytic ectodomain shedding by ADAM17 metalloproteinase.

    Our work has revealed that L-selectin is essential to deliver killer T- cells to influenza-infected lungs for protective immunity http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-35373730 . Moreover, our studies have revealed new roles for L-selectin in T-cell immunity to cancers which are not related to T-cell homing.

    Major goals for the future are to identify the mechanisms underlying L-selectin dependent anti-viral and anti-tumour immunity and whether this is dependent on HEV neogenesis in the diseased organ.

    New research aims to determine if T-cell homing contributes to neurodegeneration such as in Alzheimer’s disease

    Current Projects 

    • The regulation of protective immunity to influenza viruses by L-selectin
    • The translational potential of arming CAR T-cells with L-selectin for treating cancer patients
    • The role of T-cells in blood-brain barrier breakdown in dementia

    Current Grant Funding:

    1. Wellcome Trust ISSF Translational Kickstart Award "Translating L-selectin enhancement to clinically relevant T-cell based cancer immunotherapies" Lead PI (Mar 2021-Jun 2022) £49,950

    2. BBSRC Project Grant "The Regulation of Protective Immunity to Viruses by L-selectin" Lead PI (Jan 2019-Dec 2022). Co-PI, Dr Vera Knäuper, £686,195

    3. CR-UK Project Grant  "Unravelling the relationship between T cell trafficking and cancer immunotherapy" Lead PI (Nov 2017-Dec 2021) £289,000.

    4Sir Geraint Evans Cardiovascular Research Fund Project Grant “Dissecting interactions between peripheral immune cells and the blood-brain barrier in dementia Lead PI (Nov 2019-Mar 2021). Co-PI. Professor Anne Ridley, £49,544

    5BBSRC CASE PhD studentship with GlaxoSmithKline "Dissecting the relationship between phosphinositide3-kinase δ activity and L-selectin expression by leucocytes" Lead PI (Oct 2018-Sept 2022). Co-PI, Dr Augustin Amour.

    6UK Dementia Research Institute PhD studentship "Mapping the role of EphA1 risk variants in Alzheimer’s disease" Lead PI (Oct 2018-Mar 2022).

    7. Tuberous Sclerosis Society PhD studentship "Targeting the Ref1/STAT3 axis to treat Tuberous Sclerosis" Co- I (Oct 2018-Sept 2021). Lead PI: Professor Andy Tee

    Collaborations 

    Professor Erwei Song, Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hospital, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China

    Dr Meng Huee Lee, Xian Jiaotong Liverpool University, Suzhou, China

    Professor Joseph Skitzki, Rosewell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Buffalo,  USA

    Professor Stephen Turner, Biomedical Discovery Institute, Monash University, Australia

    Supervision

    • T lymphocyte homing in health and disease
    • Lymphocyte-blood vessel interactions in lymphoid organs and inflamed tissues
    • The role of blood brain barrier in neurodegeneration
    • Therapeutic manipulation of T lymphocyte homing to boost immunity to viruses and cancer

    Past projects

    PGR Students

    2018-                   Jesse Champion ( Co-supervisor)

    2018-                   Lauren Thorburn

    2018-                   Sophie Reed

    2017-                   Hanan Almutairi (Co-supervisor)

    2017-                   Abdullah Alanazi

    2017-                   Owen Moon

    2015-                   Helen Owens

    2013-                   Andrew Newman

    2013-                   Ellyn Hughes (Co-supervisor)

    2012-                   Emily Colbeck (Co-supervisor))

    2012-                   Diana Filipa Costa Bento (Co-supervisor)

    2012-                   Rebar Mohammed, Cardiff University

    2011-                   Sophie Wehenkel, Cardiff University

    2009 –                 Katarzyna Gawel, Cardiff University (with Dr Vera Knauper)

    2002 – 2006        Owen McGuinn, PhD, University of Cambridge (with Prof. Gillian Murphy and Dr Peter Newham)

    1997 - 2002         Emma-Kate Yates, Ph.D.

    1998 - 2002         Stephen Jolles, Ph.D., University of London

    1997 - 2000         Rhian Phillips, Ph.D., University of London

    1996 - 1999         Kyriakos Tanousis, Ph.D., University of London

    1993 - 1996         Abigail Price, Ph.D., University of London

    1990 - 1993         Mary di Mauro, Ph.D., University of Manchester

    1989 - 1990         Michael May, M.Sc., University of Manchester

    Engagement

    2021   'How COVID-19 vaccines work' in public meeting organised by EMWWH and the Learned Society for Wales

    2020    I’m A Scientist, Health Zone STEM engagement activity connecting schools students with scientists

    2020    Coordinated meeting of the British Society for Immunology and the Chief Scientific Advisor (Health) for Wales to discuss Wales’ experience and practice in vaccination strategies in preparation for delivery of a Covid-19 vaccine

    2019    Hosted Secretary of State for Wales at the Parliamentary Links day on ‘Science and the New Frontiers’ and discussed investment opportunities in Wales in precision and regenerative medicine for economic growth and specialist education/training

    2018      Speaker at Pint of Science, ‘Immune cells: right place, right time’, Cardiff

    2017       Speaker at Soapbox Science on 10th June 2017 in Cardiff showcasing women in Science (https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/news/view/798209-soapbox-science-cardiff-2017)

    2017       Interactive practical demonstration of T cell trafficking at ‘Tackling Cancer Together’ open day organised by the Wales Cancer Partnership, Cardiff, 25th November 2017 (https://www.walescancerpartnership.com/partner-events/2017/11/25/tackling-cancer-together/)

    2017-2020       Interviews about my research and career for Wales radio (https://radiocardiff.org/pythagoras-trousers/), Cancer Research UK website and BBC Television Wales

    2016              Women’s Institute, Vale of Glamorgan: T-cells in immunity to viruses and cancers

    2016          Wellcome Inspire team Taster Days to Medical and Dental Students year to educate, inform and inspire students about biomedical research

    2014      Cancer Research UK Cardiff Centre Open Day: Presentation entitled ‘Of Mice and Men’ explaining translation of biomedical research to the clinic

    2013    Speaker at Science in Health Live that hosts 500 Year 12 pupils from schools across Wales and the border counties "Directing the traffic; how to white blood cells know where to go?’. (https://vimeo.com/channels/312286/73863788). Student feedback included ‘The best part was the short talk about white blood cells as it helped to put more information onto what I have already learnt in school’