Nowadays, melanoma and lung cancer can be combatted effectively through immunotherapy, which makes targeted use of the immune system’s normal function of regularly examining the body’s tissue for pathogens and damages. Specific inhibitors are used to activate immune cells in a way that makes them identify cancer cells as foreign bodies and eliminate them. This way, the immune system can boost its often weak immune response to allow it to even detect and destroy metastatic cancer cells. Immunotherapy thus makes it possible to control cancer cells in up to 50 percent of patients, in some cases even curing them altogether.
However, around half of cancer patients do not respond to immunotherapy, but still have to put up with its side effects. A team of researchers from the University of Zurich and the UniversityHos-pital Zurich has now used a novel method to find out which patients are likely to respond positive-ly to immunotherapy. The researchers were able to identify biomarkers in the blood that indicate whether the therapy is highly likely to be effective even before treatment is commenced.
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“The blood counts of patients should be analyzed for these biomarkers when making a decision about immunotherapy. This will dramatically increase the share of patients who will benefit from this type of therapy,” says Professor Burkhard Becher from the Institute of Experimental Immunol-ogy at UZH. “At the same time, it makes it possible to directly move on to different methods in cases where immunotherapy won’t work — without losing valuable time.”
The researchers worked hand in hand with the Department of Dermatology of the UniversityHospi-tal Zurich to examine biomarkers in 40 blood samples of 20 patients, both before and 12 weeks after immunotherapy. For this, they used the high-dimensional “cytometry by time of flight” (Cy-TOF) cell analysis method, which analyzes cells for up to 50 different proteins one cell at a time. The researchers were thus able to differentiate every single cell and document its activation sta-tus. Even nuanced differences between the patient samples were recorded in detail.