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Exploring the Immune Landscape of Cancer

custom bold graphic of the human body and 3 illustrations of cancer cells

Researchers have successfully mapped out the immune landscape of cancer cells. A recent study revealed that the immune gene expression in tumors varied by molecular type, and they have isolated six immune subtypes. Over 10,000 patients with 33 different kinds of cancer were tested during the course of the research. This research is playing a major role in precision medicine and point treatments for patients and created The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Gene signature.

Their bold discovery will provide cancer researchers a wealth of information that applies to various kinds of cancer. More importantly, identifying the immune targets could eventually lead to finding more effective treatments.

Immunotherapy as a Viable Cancer Option

Immunotherapy uses substances made from living organisms to fight cancer. Most cancer cells thrive because they are able to hide from the body’s immune system. Some immunotherapies mark cancer cells so the body’s immune system can find and destroy them. Other kinds boost the immune system over all to fight cancer cells better. 

Sneaky Cancer cells hid and thrive in the body's immune System, Precision medicine is trying to address
Sneaky cancer cells hide and thrive in the body’s immune system

Cancer immunotherapy is revolutionizing cancer care and treatment. Advancements and additional discoveries have given scientists a clear picture of how the immune system of cancer cells work. They have found that antibodies against CTLA-4, PD-1, and PD-L1 effectively addressed a number of malignancies. However, researchers wanted to further explore how the immune microenvironment was driving these responses.

They are also using dendritic cell training, CAR T cells, small molecule inhibitors, endogenous viral DNA targeting as well as other techniques.

“We integrated major immunogenomics methods to characterize the immune tumor microenvironment (TME) across 33 cancers analyzed by TCGA, applying methods for the assessment of total lymphocytic infiltrate, immune cell fractions from deconvolution analysis of mRNA-seq data, immune gene expression signatures, neoantigen prediction, TCR and BCR repertoire inference, viral RNA expression, and somatic DNA alterations. Transcriptional regulatory networks and extracellular communication networks that may govern the TME were found, as were possible germline determinants of TME features, and prognostic models were developed,” the study, published by Elsevier Inc., read.

The Six Immune Subtypes

Researchers identified and characterized six immune subtypes which were present in multiple tumors. The results of this study have a bold impact on future studies in the field of immunogenomics. More importantly, it serves as a take off point for more effective treatment and better cancer management.

Scientists isolated six immune subtypes, namely: wound healing, IFN-γ dominant, inflammatory, lymphocyte depleted, immunologically quiet, and TGF-β dominant. The subtypes each have their own differences in macrophage or lymphocyte signatures, overall cell proliferation, expression of immunomodulatory genes, and prognosis, among other characteristics.

Researchers said these categories could suggest specific treatment approaches for certain cancers. The data is now considered a “living resource” that the immunogenomics community can use.

“With our increasing understanding that the tumor immune environment plays an important role in prognosis as well as response to therapy, the definition of the immune subtype of a tumor may play a critical role in the predicting disease outcome as opposed to relying solely on features specific to individual cancer types, “ the scientists wrote.

These six immune subtypes are across all human malignancies. They play a role in the “prognosis, genetic, and immune modulatory alterations that may shape the specific types of immune environments we have observed”.

Dendritic Cell Training, CAR T Cells, and Endogenous DNA Targeting

Dendritic cells serve as regulators of immune response and work to mediate T cell immunity.  These dendritic cells are adapt at initiating a T cell response and directing T cell polarization. While still a new science, they are showing promise in creating a CD8 T cell response in mice targeting cancer immunity.

Another area of promise is the use of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR T) cells in targeting and eliminating malignant gliomas. The evolution of the adoptively transferred CAR T cells is treating the effects of standard of care chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Precision medicine is also utilizing engineered sequence-specific endonucleases to create DNA double-strand breaks. The gene targeting is in use to alter specific DNA sequences in a endogenous genes. The gene targeting is being shown to both knock-out and knock-in mutants in mice.

Immunotherapy’s goal is to stop or slow down the growth of cancer cells. It also tries to keep them from spreading to other parts of the body, as well as help the immune system find and destroy cancer cells on its own. While, Chemotherapy or other drug-based treatments are in use today, the treatment is extremely promising.

Coupled with early cancer detection,  immunotherapy and precision medicine can revolutionize cancer treatments all over the world.


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