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June 19, 2017

Discovery of New Immune Cell May Improve Treatment of Lung Cancer Patients

  • An international research team says it has discovered a new kind of immune cell that could predict which lung cancer patients will benefit most from immunotherapy treatment. The group's study ("Tissue-Resident Memory Features Are Linked to the Magnitude of Cytotoxic T Cell Responses in Human Lung Cancer") appears in Nature Immunology.

    Investigators at the University of Southampton and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology found that lung cancer patients with large amounts of a particular type of immune T cell, called tissue-resident memory T cells, in their tumor were 34% less likely to die.

    The team also found that it was not just the numbers of cells that increased survival, but also the cells’ behavior played a key role. The cells clustered together and took up residency in a particular tissue, in this case the cancer tissue, to protect the patient.

    These new T cells also produce other molecules that attack the tumor, meaning that the body’s immune system could be more likely to hunt out and destroy cancer cells.

    Immunotherapies have shown great promise in the last decade, but identifying which patients respond to treatment and which don’t has proven difficult, according to Christian Ottensmeier, M.D., Cancer Research UK scientist at the University of Southampton. In the future, testing for levels of these cells could help doctors identify which patients will benefit most from immunotherapies that help to ramp up the body’s attack on the cancer. Scientists could take this one step further by using the T cell as a template to develop a vaccine to boost immunotherapy.

    “These are hugely exciting results," said Dr. Ottensmeier. For the first time, we have a real indication of who might benefit from a particular drug before we make treatment decisions. So far, when we use immunotherapy we do not know if a patient will benefit. The new findings are a big step toward making this exciting treatment much more predictable."

    “Our results will also make the treatment pathway more reassuring for our patients. And if we can translate our finding into clinical practice, then we will also save patients unnecessary side effects and reduce costs to the National Health Service.”

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