New discovery paves the way for better diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer

22nd June 2021

Worldwide Cancer Research scientists in France have discovered how the tissue surrounding breast cancer tumours can prevent immune cells from reaching and destroying cancer cells. Their findings could lead to better ways to diagnose breast cancer and new ways to improve immunotherapy.

In 2020, almost 54,000 people were diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK, making it the second most common cancer overall. In recent years, immunotherapy has become an important weapon in the arsenal against breast cancer, but many patients still fail to respond to the treatment. Dr Gertraud Orend and her team have now found that the reason so many patients don’t respond might not be the tumour itself, but the tissue that surrounds it – the extracellular matrix.

Dr Orend and her team have found that tenascin-C, a molecule found in the extracellular matrix, guides immune cells away from the tumour, preventing them from detecting and destroying the cancer cells. Excitingly, they have now found a way to stop this from happening and increase the number of immune cells reaching the tumour, resulting in reduced tumour growth and slowing down the spread of the disease.

It's a breakthrough that could be the starting point for new diagnostic tools and treatments for one of the most common cancers in the world.

“We are currently designing drugs that block the mechanism that traps these immune cells in the matrix. Our results have the potential for clinical trials, and I believe that our discovery may revolutionise immune checkpoint therapy. Our results may also improve breast cancer diagnosis and allow to better select patients for tailored therapy.”Dr Gertraud Orend

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