New study reveals how immune cells hunt down cancer around the body

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Researchers have uncovered the secrets of immune B cells, revealing why they are so effective at targeting tumors, even when cancer has spread to different parts of the body.

Published in Nature Immunology, this breakthrough could revolutionize cancer treatment by leading to improved, personalized immunotherapies.

Teams from the University of Oxford, the Institute of Cancer Research in London, and the University of Cambridge conducted biopsies on breast cancer patients.

They used a technique called B cell receptor sequencing to study genetic variations in B cells.

B cells are crucial parts of the immune system, just like the more well-known T cells. They produce antibodies, proteins that attach to harmful substances like viruses and cancer cells, helping the immune system to destroy them.

When a B cell recognizes a cancer cell and binds to it, it undergoes changes and becomes even better at targeting cancer.

Lead author Associate Professor Rachael Bashford-Rogers explains that B and T cell responses evolve with changes in individual tumor sites within the body. Some B cell responses are seen across many or all tumor sites, indicating that they actively seek out cancer cells throughout the body.

The researchers identified a common pattern of immune cell surveillance across multiple tumor sites and developed a tool to identify these cells accurately.

The researchers discovered unique B cells with diversified genetic sequences present at multiple metastatic tumor sites.

This suggests that after identifying cancer in one area, B cells migrate to hunt down cancer at different sites around the body. B cells found only in one tumor site were less likely to have diversified and were not effective at cancer surveillance.

Additionally, B cells consistently present throughout patients’ treatment had recognized cancer and changed their genetic sequence to become more effective at targeting cancer cells.

Using this information, the researchers developed a computational tool to predict which B cells were most likely to detect and target cancer cells successfully.

They believe this tool can identify a patient’s most successful anti-cancer B cells, and the antibodies these B cells naturally produce can be artificially developed. This could lead to personalized immunotherapy treatments, supercharging the patient’s immune system to fight cancer.

Dr. Stephen-John Sammut, the study’s first author, emphasizes that the immune response to cancer extends beyond the initial tumor site. Successful B cells search for similar cancer cells throughout the body.

The computational tool developed by the team will allow the identification of B cells that recognize cancer cells and the antibodies they produce.

This paves the way for personalized anticancer antibody treatments to boost the immune system’s response against metastatic breast cancer.

Professor Kristian Helin, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, highlights the importance of understanding the immune system’s defense against cancer.

This study sheds light on the role of B cells in cancer growth and spread, offering hope for the development of personalized cancer immunotherapies that could benefit more patients than existing treatments.

The paper ‘Predictability of B cell clonal persistence and immunosurveillance in breast cancer’ is published in Nature Immunology.

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