Project details

Researcher: Dr Hamid Ali

Location: University of Cambridge

Project cost: £228,238

The challenge

We need more targeted treatments to successfully treat triple negative breast cancer and to stop people dying from it. Immunotherapy could help to better treat the disease. However, immunotherapy doesn’t work for everyone and for some people it has difficult side effects. It’s also only currently available to people with secondary triple negative breast cancer.

We need to better understand who will benefit most from immunotherapy so that it can reach more people with triple negative breast cancer. We also need to avoid giving it to people who will not benefit from this treatment so that they don’t have to unnecessarily experience its side effects.

The science behind the project

Immunotherapy treatment works by activating the immune system so that it can recognise cancer cells and destroy them. Dr Hamid Ali and his team are looking for ways to identify patients with triple negative breast cancer who would benefit most from immunotherapy.

The researchers believe that an immune system cell called a macrophage can influence whether breast cancer responds well to immunotherapy treatment. In some circumstances it can turn off other immune cells that destroy cancer cells. They want to better understand its role.

The team is using a new cutting-edge technology to see how macrophages and other immune cells interact with breast cancer cells in tumour samples donated by patients. The hope is that they can track these interactions and find out a way to predict cancer’s response to immunotherapy.

Using samples from a triple negative breast cancer clinical trial, the researchers want to see what the differences are between tumours that respond to immunotherapy and tumours that don’t.

What difference will this project make?

By learning more about how immune cells, such as macrophages, interact with triple negative breast cancer cells, we will be able to better understand whether a tumour will respond to immunotherapy. This could help identify people who would benefit most from receiving this kind of treatment.


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