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Approved Research

The role of HLA supertype in conferring autoimmune and infectious disease risk

Principal Investigator: Dr Kevin Litchfield
Approved Research ID: 80046
Approval date: December 20th 2022

Lay summary

Human resistance to infection, cancer and autoimmune diseases relies on the ability of our immune system to recognise 'self' and 'foreign' molecules. In cancer, mutations create molecules which allow the immune system to recognise them as foreign. Small pieces of these foreign molecules are displayed on the surface of cancer cells, triggering an immune response. Successful recognition of these fragments determines whether the immune system can locate and destroy the cancerous or infected cells. Alterations to this process of fragment presentation may affect how the body fights disease.

Scientific rationale:

We have recently found evidence that around 50% of cancer patients have problems presenting a common type of foreign fragment to the immune system. We have also found a number of diseases that rely on the immune system to recognize this type of fragment, in order to respond appropriately. This defective presentation of foreign fragments may mean some peoples immune system cannot detect and fight disease appropriately.


To perform a statistical analysis, to find connections between human genetics and disease susceptibility. We will group patients based on their ability to present a common type of foreign fragment and assess their susceptibility to certain disease types.

We will determine whether genetic groups are protected against autoimmune conditions such as arthritis and type 1 diabetes, or whether this increases susceptibility to infectious diseases such as HIV or COVID-19.

Impact of the work:

Our work has the potential to identify a large group of people at risk of certain disease types and will identify a new avenue in which to potentially treat these people and overcome this issue.