Last updated August 2, 2018 at 10:52 am
Breakthrough study identifies new targets for treatment.
Australian scientists have described in unprecedented detail how the immune system responds to breast cancer, identifying a potential new target for immunotherapy treatments.
Researchers from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre at the University of Melbourne genetically analysed more than 6300 white blood cells found in tumour samples collected from 129 patients with breast cancer.
It was the first study to divide these Tumour Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TILs) into distinct sub-types.
“For some time we’ve known that patients who have more TILs detectable in their tumours generally have better outcomes from cancer treatment, as this indicates a stronger immune response,” said Professor Sherene Loi, head of the Centre’s Translational Breast Cancer Genomics and Therapeutics Laboratory.
Distinct TILs subsets
“Our study has taken the next step of identifying the distinct TILs subsets that are driving this enhanced response in some patients, giving us important insights into how we can better use immunotherapies to treat breast cancer.”
One subset – CD8+ T cells with features of tissue-resident memory – emerged as a common factor across breast cancer tumours that had high numbers of TILs.
A further analysis involving a broader pool of patient genetic information found this same T cell subset was associated with improved relapse-free, and overall survival in patients who had triple negative breast cancer – the most aggressive form.
It is thought this T cell subset is the key modulator of the immune response against breast cancer – particularly in triple negative breast cancer – and existing and new immunotherapies targeting this may lead to improved treatments.
The project was a collaboration with The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.
The paper published in Nature Medicine.