I’ve taken to avoiding the sessions about so-called basic science, which is typically only comprehensible to the folks in that expertise—even other researchers and doctors struggle to follow. But there were two areas in basic science that have been widely discussed at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium this year that I will cover for you in a quick summary.
- Thirty years after widespread medical interest in immunotherapy, we still have not harnessed its potential but we saw three papers on the topic at SABCS this year. Lymphocytes are white blood cells that are part of the immune system. Research has shown that the more of these cells from the immune system (lymphocytes) are found in a tumor, the better the prognosis. A patient’s immune system appears to play an important role in chemo, targeted therapies, etc. although we do not yet know how to support the immune system and what interventions can increase the number of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes.
- Stem cells are cells that are able to self-renew and can create two equal cells. Researchers have found there are two types of stem cells in breast cancer: luminal and basal. Although just 1 in 1000 cells in a tumor are stem cells, they are vitally important because stem cells are resistant to therapy and can regrow the entire tumor months, years, decades later. There has been suggestion from research in animals that a better indicator of prognosis than tumor progression is markers in the form of proteins that are expressed on these stem cells. Researchers’ interest in targeting stem cells in the future is reinforced by the finding that some stem cells over-express HER2, even in tumors that are not HER2+. The researcher presenting this information noted that a control group that didn’t have HER2 amplification also got significant benefit from that therapy and this may be an area of future investigation.