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Zürich – Zurich researchers have examined several million cancer and immune cells of breast cancer patients. They have discovered that aggressive tumors are mostly dominated by one type of cell, thus opening up possibilities for immune therapy.

According topress release by University of Zurich (UZH), Johanna Wagner from the UZH and Marianna Rapsomaniki from the IBM Research Lab Rüschlikon have collaborated with the Patients’ Tumor Bank of Hope in their research. They used mass cytometry to examine cancer cells. Wagner says: “With this technology we were able to investigate the diversity of cancer cells very precisely and describe how many different types of cancer cells can be found in one tumor”.

During the investigations by the Zurich researchers it became clear that the previous assumption that tumor cells were more diverse in more aggressive tumors was not correct. Instead, more aggressive tumors are mostly dominated by a single type of tumor cell. “Each examined tumor was unique in its cellular composition and varied from patient to patient. This could be one of the reasons why we have problems treating breast cancer”, says Wagner.

In parallel with examining cancer cells the tumor-associated immune system was also analyzed. In some patients inactive immune cells were discovered that can be successfully activated for lung and skin cancer using immune therapy. Therefore, these investigations could be an approach for the successful use of precision medicine treatments. “Our findings point to the potential success of immune therapy for breast cancer. We shall carry out further studies on this and if we are successful, we shall extend it to a clinical trial”, says Bernd Bodenmiller, professor at the new Institute for Quantitative Biomedicine, where Wagner is a doctoral student.

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