How cancer reoccurs after immunotherapy?

The study from Rockefeller University identifies cells that help tumours to survive the treatment, suggesting potential avenues for improvement

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 13 May 2019
How does cancer reoccurs after immunotherapy? Photo: Getty Images

Fighting cancer remains one of the biggest health challenges before the world and immunotherapy has emerged as an useful tool to counter the disease. But relapse in patients is a major cause of worry. Now researchers have potentially found the reason for such relapse.

Rockefeller University researchers have identified tumour cells that prevent a successful remission, news agency ENN reported. Their research also offered insights into the process.

“Immunotherapy is an exciting advancement in cancer treatment, and a patient’s initial response can be incredibly strong,” says Yuxuan Miao, a postdoctoral associate in the the lab of Elaine Fuchs at the US university.

The study, described in the journal Cell, demonstrated a molecule called CD80 that helps tumour stem cells survive immunotherapy. To determine how, a mice model with a type of squamous cell carcinoma cancer — the second-most common form of skin cancer — was used.

The researchers found that the tumour-initiating stem cells — a subset of cancer cells — have superior resistance to T cells (immune cells) and they survive immunotherapy treatment by producing a molecule called CD80. This molecule, which sits on the cancer cell’s surface, works to diminish the effectiveness of immune cells to attack and eradicate cancer.

“Tumour-initiating stem cells make up less than two per cent of a tumour’s mass, but they’re sneaky,” says Miao. “They essentially quiet the immune system to avoid elimination, and then later regrow a whole new tumour.”

The team also identified a molecular switch that triggers these cells to make CD80, a protein called TGF beta. The discovery can lead to potential improvements of immunotherapy, for example, antibodies blocking TGF beta could be used in combination with conventional immunotherapy drugs to overcome the resistance problem, the report said.

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