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Study Sheds Light on Why Some Breast Cancers Have Limited Response to Immunotherapy

University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers have identified a possible reason why some aggressive breast cancers are unresponsive to certain immunotherapy treatments, as well as a potential solution.

In the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the researchers report on their study that explored a perplexing question: Why were drugs designed to unleash the immune system against cancer ineffective in a type of triple negative breast cancer with a heavy presence of immune cells? Their findings could lead to a strategy to improve immunotherapy responses in the "claudin-low" subtype of breast cancer.

"We were trying to figure out why a tumor made up, in some instances, of half immune cells doesn't respond to a treatment that should ramp up immune cells present in the tumor," said the study's senior author Jonathan Serody, MD, UNC Lineberger member and the Elizabeth Thomas Professor in the UNC School of Medicine. "I think it's important for us to try to start segregating out the types of tumors that don't respond to these treatments at a much granular genomic level, and try to figure out new mechanisms to enhance the response rate to immunotherapy."

The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 12 percent of breast cancers are "triple negative," meaning they lack three cell surface receptors that are known to help drive the cancer. Triple negative breast cancer tumors typically grow faster and come back sooner than other breast cancer types. There are no targeted treatments for these cancers.

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