Location: The Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre, London
Team: Functional tumour immunology team
Immunotherapies are treatments that turn our bodies’ immune system against cancer. Immunotherapies have worked really well for some people with certain cancers. But we need more research so that many more people with cancer can benefit from this treatment.
In some cancers, the tumour cells can hide from the immune system, making them harder to fight. If we can understand how tumour cells are able to do this, and then target this ability, we could make breast cancer cells visible to the immune system again. This could help people with breast cancer who have limited options for their treatment.
“Our lab is studying how immune cells are affected by cancer cells and other parts of the tumour local environment. We want to understand exactly how tumours can hide from the immune system. Then we can target these processes with drugs to reveal the breast cancer to the immune system” – Dr Esther Arwert
The science behind the project
Esther and her team are focusing on the following two areas:
1) Understanding communication between cancer cells and immune cells
Breast cancer cells communicate with each other, as well as with other cells found in a tumour. Working out how these cells communicate will help us understand how cancers can resist immunotherapies.
Esther’s team is interested in the communication between breast cancer cells and a type of immune cell called a T cell. They want to know how this impacts the effectiveness of immunotherapies. The researchers will track T cell activity with sophisticated laboratory methods to work out how cancer cells and the tumour environment can turn T cells off, so that they aren’t able to act against cancer.
2) Observing interactions between the tumour environment and the immune response
We know that the local environment in a breast cancer tumour can have an effect on the body’s immune response, but could we also use it to predict how the cancer responds to immunotherapies?
In order for immune cells to communicate, certain structures inside the tumour need to be close together. And this communication can cause resistance to immunotherapies. By studying breast cancer in mice, Esther’s team are trying to work out which parts of the tumour environment are causing this.
What difference will this project make?
Dr Arwert’s research could provide a new treatment for people with breast cancer. By revealing hidden breast cancer cells to the immune system, the new treatment could help a patient’s own body fight the cancer. This could be a real breakthrough for people who currently have limited treatments available for their breast cancer.
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