Collaborative Research Project: Unleashing the Potential of Immunotherapies for Breast Cancer
“Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women – yet, for about a third of individuals with breast cancer, treatment options are very limited,” says Dr Gallego- Ortega.“So, there’s an urgent need to explore other treatment options to ensure that those individuals aren’t left behind.”
Immunotherapies, which ‘re-educate’ the immune system to recognise and destroy cancer cells, have achieved exceptional success against some types of cancers, particularly lung cancer and melanoma. In breast cancers, however, immunotherapy has been disappointing – because, in breast tumours, the immune system’s function is ‘dialed down’ and immunotherapies can’t work effectively.
The research team has already uncovered how immune function is stymied in breast cancer in preclinical models. They showed that a particular group of cells, called MDSCs (myeloid derived suppressor cells), accumulate in breast tumours and cripple immune function. Tantalisingly, the team has also shown in preclinical models that they can target and destroy MDSCs, which releases the brake on the immune system to let immunotherapies do their job.
The next step? “It’s time to investigate a similar approach in people. We will define, in unprecedented detail, the cells that make up a human breast tumour, with a particular focus on understanding MDSCs,” says Dr Gallego-Ortega.
Armed with a deep cell-by-cell understanding of human breast cancer, the researchers will explore new ways to knock out MDSCs within tumours by using antibodies that will result in the reactivation of the body’s ability to reject cancer cells. This immunotherapy approach is particularly promising for the deadly triple-negative breast cancer and familial BRCA1/2 mutation carriers.
Ultimately, they aim to identify antibodies that have the power to unleash immunotherapies and transform outcomes for breast cancer patients.
Single-cell transcriptomics of MDSC cells from breast tumours