Rebeca Arroyo Hornero is in the last year of her Restore-funded DPhil programme at the Transplantation Research Immunology Group of the University of Oxford. Rebeca and her supervisor Dr Fadi Issa, have been trying to find ways to minimise rejection of transplanted tissues for burns reconstruction. In severe or extensive burns, patients often do not have enough of their own skin available for grafting.  Consequently, other less optimal methods of reconstruction may be used. The use of donated skin may help overcome this obstacle, however these grafts are rejected by the immune system as they are from unrelated individuals. Rebeca and Fadi have been focusing on regulatory T cells, a type of white blood cell that has the capability of preventing transplant rejection. To produce the therapy, the regulatory T cell population has to be grown in large numbers.  However, current techniques give rise to contaminants in the end product which make it less effective. Rebeca’s current focus is to find a method to select better regulatory T cells to provide a more potent therapy for clinical use. Through her research, she has discovered a functional marker on the regulatory T cells which can be used to select out better cells. This could be enhanced by using specific drugs that can boost regulatory T cell performance.

Rebeca’s groundbreaking work has been recognised by three awards in quick succession. She has won The Transplantation Society’s 2018 Young Investigator Award, which she will receive at their international conference in Madrid in July this year. She has also won the ‘750 Prize in the Sciences’ from Balliol College and the ‘1st Prize at the Oxford Immunology Symposium’ for her poster ‘Co-stimulatory modulation of human regulatory T cells for enhanced immunotherapy’. Her work is also going to be shown at the 5th European Congress of Immunology in Amsterdam in September.

A huge congratulations to Rebeca and the rest of the Transplantation Research Immunology Group at Oxford for all their hard work and advancements in the treatment for burns. We will keep you updated on her findings and how this can improve patient care.

By Jasmine Bailey, Restore Student Fellow