A pioneering technique designed to spot differences between immune cells in tumors could speed the development of cancer treatments, research suggests.
Scientists say the approach could be used to help doctors choose the best treatments for individual patients, and predict which tumors are likely to respond to a particular therapy.
It could help target the use of immunotherapy – a new form of treatment that uses the body’s own defences to tackle cancer. This therapy has shown great promise in recent years, but identifying which patients will respond best is a challenge for doctors.
The new approach – based on gene analysis – makes it easier to spot the range of immune cells present in a tumour. These cells could help the body detect and kill cancer when activated by certain drugs, scientists say.
Traditional treatments, such as radiology, do not discriminate between cell types and attack both cancerous and healthy cells, often leading to side effects.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh analyzed genes from anonymized medical databases of thousands of tumors to identify those associated with immune cells. This allowed them to quickly detect immune cells in a tumor based on their genetic code, even when they were mixed in with harmful cancerous cells and normal cells. They say that this resource – called ImSig – paints the best picture of tumors to date and will allow scientists to study how certain immune cell types affect cancer growth.
In the future, this could help doctors decide which patients are most likely to respond to immunotherapy.