Immune cells in tumours can predict disease progression and therapy response


Researchers at IGP have identified a combination of two types of immune cells that characterise certain cancer forms. This combination can be used to provide disease prognosis and predict treatment response to immunotherapy. The findings are presented in a new study in the journal eBioMedicine.

The immune system is very complex, with a large number of cell types. In recent years, the importance of the immune system in cancer has become increasingly evident. Immune cells are part of the tumour microenvironment, where they can support or supress tumour growth. New immunotherapies are used to modulate the immune microenvironment and successfully treat several cancer types.

Unfortunately, not all tumour types respond to immunotherapy. To avoid treatments that can give significant adverse effects, without being beneficial for the patient, possibilities to predict the response to immunotherapy are urgently needed. The combination of specific immune cells discovered by the IGP scientists could be used both for prognosis and prediction of therapy response for certain cancer types.

“We started by mapping 15 different immune cells in tumour samples from patients with colorectal cancer. The presence of one specific type of macrophage and one kind of T cell were found to be associated with patient fate,” says Artur Mezheyeuski, researcher at IGP and first author of the study.

Based on these two cell types, the researchers developed what they called a Signature of Immune Activation, SIA. They also found a correlation between SIA and disease progression in several other most common cancer forms.

“It is relatively simple to determine SIA and it functions as an independent biomarker for at least five different cancer forms. It also works better than other prognostic methods based on immune cell analysis,” says Artur Mezheyeuski.

The study showed that SIA can also be used to predict patient response for immunotherapy. When the researchers analysed samples from melanoma patients that had received immunotherapy, they found that high SIA scores correlated with a response to the treatment.

“We believe that our results should be further evaluated in prospective studies, to demonstrate that SIA can be used for selecting patients that are likely responders to different immunotherapies,” says Tobias Sjöblom, who led the study.

The macrophages that were part of the SIA had unique features, suggesting them as potential therapeutic targets. Hence, SIA could also be used to define patient groups that could benefit from a combination therapy with anti-macrophage treatment supplementing immunotherapy.

More information:

Article in eBioMedicine

Tobias Sjöblom’s research

Last modified: 2022-01-26