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New and Improved treatments

Targeting B Cells For Breast Cancer Immunotherapy

Garvan Institute of Medical Research Associate Professor

Alexander Swarbrick

Project Description: Despite great success in the treatment of certain cancers such as melanoma, immunotherapy has not made a substantial impact on the treatment of breast cancer. Current immunotherapies target the T lymphocytes of the immune system to boost their ability to destroy cancer cells. This project will investigate whether targeting the other main lymphocyte cell type, B cells, may be effective in the treatment of breast cancer. 

Why This Work is Needed: Metastatic breast cancer remains lethal, with only an approximately 10% ten-year survival rate. New treatments are urgently required. 

Expected Outcomes: This study aims to learn more about the key features of B cells present in breast cancer. The team will investigate how B cells interact with both healthy and cancerous tissue, in the hope that it may lead to a more effective form of immunotherapy for breast cancer. 

Project Details  

Over the past few years, immunotherapy has revolutionised the treatment of many cancer types. In particular, it is now the standard of care for people with metastatic melanoma, dramatically improving the survival outcomes of these patients. However, it has not been as effective for the treatment of other solid tumours such as breast cancer. 

The body’s immune system produces two types of lymphocytes which act to destroy pathogens and cancer cells. T cells, which generally kill by direct contact, are targeted by existing immunotherapy drugs. The other type, B cells, act by producing antibodies.  

B cells make up 40% of all lymphocytes in breast cancer, and anti-cancer antibodies are present in the serum of cancer patients. This suggests that B cells are active in the disease, and could be a suitable target for new treatments. However, we know relatively little about the action of B cells in breast cancer,  

This study, led by Associate Professor Alexander Swarbrick from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, will investigate the role of B cells in breast cancer. In particular, the project will find out what types of B cells are present, whether they produce antibodies effectively against cancer, and how to increase their cancer-killing activity. 

Garvan Institute of Medical Research Associate Professor

Alexander Swarbrick