Gentofte Hospital


Cancer Immunology


Phone: +45 38683868

Research leader

Marco Donia

Clinician-Scientist, PhD, Associate Professor, born 1984

Project title

Characterization of unconventional immune functions in cancer

What is your project about?

My project is designed to discover how the human immune system react to cancer, in order to manipulate the immune-cancer interactions and cure patients with widespread cancer diseases.

Today, we know very well what the immune system can see on cancer, but what exactly the immune system does after having recognized the cancer is not well characterized. In this project, I will investigate the function of a certain type of immune cell (the lymphocytes), focusing on which molecules – that impair or stimulate cancer growth - they release after having recognized a cancer. My results will result in the development of novel treatments that block those immune molecules which stimulate cancer growth.

Marco Donia illustration _1499901879212.jpg

How did you become interested in your particular field of research?

I have been doing biomedical research since 2005, shortly after initiating my medical studies at the University of Catania (Italy) in 2002. Cancer Immunotherapy has seen a tremendous development in early 2010’s, thus at that time I came to the Center for Cancer Immune Therapy in Denmark in an international exchange program. Since 2014, my research has been exclusively focused on this field, while continuing my clinical career as cancer physician. Today, I am employed as clinician-scientist at the Department of Oncology, Herlev Hospital, where I spend half of my time on research and half on patient care.

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project?

In order to develop novel and more effective treatments, it is essential to understand the very complex interaction between the immune system and cancer. We have established a world-unique biobank with immune cells and cancer cells from the same patients, thus we can reproduce in the laboratory the immune-cancer interactions occurring in individual patients. In this way, we can screen a large panel of immune cells and identify which molecules they release and what role these play in the cancer lesion. My research can thus lead to new important knowledge and, in the long run, the development of new cancer treatments.

What is your estimate of the impact, which your project may have to society in the long term?

Cancer has an enormous impact in our society, because around every third Danish will be diagnosed with cancer during the course of his life. In the past few years, an increasing knowledge of the role of our immune system for controlling cancer has led to the introduction of novel immunotherapies, which can cure a fraction of patients with widely metastatic cancers. These treatments represent an important milestone in cancer treatment, but unfortunately only a minority of patients obtain a benefit from current immunotherapy. My project can lead to the development of a totally new form of cancer immunotherapy, that may potentially be applied to the treatment of patients who have no effect of currently available therapies.

Which impact do you expect the Sapere Aude programme will have on your career as a researcher?

The Sapere Aude grant will give me the possibility to strengthen my research group and my international position in cancer immunology research. The prestige of the Sapere Aude program will improve the visibility of my research and give me the possibility to further develop my research activities to the highest international level

Background and personal life

I was born in Taormina and raised in Catania (Sicily, Italy), where I started my training as cancer physician (oncologist). I came for the first time to Denmark in connection with an international exchange program under my postgraduate education, and aftwerwards since 2014 I decided to stay in Denmark where I enjoyed the unique opportunity to work as researcher and cancer physician at the same time. I am married to a Danish woman, and together we have two small daughters both under 3 years of age. Furthermore, I have been practicing competitive track and field athletics (javelin throw) for many years, where I have been Italian U20 champion and I have participated to the Danish Championships. After a rupture of my achilles tendon in 2016, I was forced to stop with athletics but – when I can find time – I still do some weight training.

City of current residence

High school
Graduated from secondary school Galileo Galilei (Catania, Italy) in 2002