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In the sixth instalment of the MRC TIDU Spotlight Series, we're taking a look at Tao Dong's Group.

A group of people in a lab

The Dong Group is a research group within the MRC Translational Immune Discovery Unit led by Professor Tao Dong. This group studies the behaviour of certain immune cells in patients with severe disease or cancer.  



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). Researchers in the group want 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.

Researchers in the Dong group take advantage of state-of-the-art technologies available in the MRC TIDU and wider Oxford immunology network (particularly the CAMS Oxford Institute) to investigate the functional defects of cytotoxic T cells isolated from patients with different disease outcomes. They use techniques such as single cell transcriptomics, proteomic analysis and CRISPR gene editing to identify molecules and pathways that might be affecting the T cells’ function. 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.

Prof Dong said:

Creating a happy research environment is critical, having everyone with the same passion, seeing young scientists flourish, it’s a great reward