Project details

Researcher: Dr Seth Coffelt

Location: University of Glasgow

Project title: Understanding how the immune system can help breast cancer to spread

Key area: Secondary breast cancer

The challenge

If breast cancer spreads throughout the body, sadly it can no longer be cured. We know that breast cancer can sometimes trick the immune system to make it easier for cancer to spread to other parts of the body. We need to understand how exactly the immune system can sometimes help breast cancer to spread so we can find ways to prevent this and stop breast cancer taking lives.

The science behind the project

Dr Seth Coffelt and his team have previously found that a type of white blood cell, called ‘gamma delta T cells’, can help breast cancer spread throughout the body by suppressing the immune system and preventing it from attacking cancer cells. Dr Coffelt thinks that the breast tumour is activating these cells, but it isn’t clear exactly how this happens.

They have found that these gamma delta T cells make large amounts of a molecule called NKG2D, which suggests that it could have an important role. In this project, Dr Coffelt and his team will investigate how NKG2D is activated, and how this allows these gamma delta T cells to support the spread of breast cancer. He will do this using a special breed of mouse that develops triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease.

What difference will this project make?

The overall aim of Dr Coffelt’s work is to understand how breast cancer tricks the immune system into helping it grow and spread. Studying the details of how this happens could eventually lead to new immunotherapy treatments to retrain the immune system to stop breast cancer spreading instead of helping it. Ultimately, this project could help improve the chances of survival for people with breast cancer. 

Breast Cancer Now thanks Secondary 1st for making Dr Coffelt's research possible.

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