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Study may lead to development of new diagnostic tools for ovarian cancer

Research co-led by Harlan Robins and Adaptive Biotechnologies reveals an even distribution of immune fighter T cells in ovarian tumors

Oct. 15, 2013
Harlan Robins

Dr. Harlan Robins, Public Health Sciences Division and co-founder of Adaptive Biotechnologies

A study co-led by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Adaptive Biotechnologies Corporation, published online ahead of print in the Journal of Pathology, has found that ovarian tumors contain an even distribution of immune fighter T cells, despite the fact that the cancer genome itself is diverse.

This finding could have an impact on ovarian cancer diagnostics because it means that it doesn’t matter which part of the tumor is biopsied; the immune response to the cancer – a strong predictor of disease outcome – is consistent throughout the tumor.

“Our study shows that, contrary to previous belief, regardless of the multiple genomes found in ovarian tumors, the distribution of host immune T cells remains homogeneous, or consistent. The potential impact on oncology diagnostics is significant in that the interpretation of the host immune response remains consistent regardless of the tumor section that a biopsy is taken from, which is a large hurdle when characterizing the cancer genome,” said corresponding author Dr. Harlan Robins of the Public Health Sciences Division and a co-founder of Adaptive Biotechnologies.

For the study, the researchers examined five large primary and metastatic ovarian tumors to determine whether the same population of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) was uniformly present throughout the tumors, or whether different tumor sections contained different populations of infiltrating T cells.  Using high-throughput sequencing, the team identified the specific T-cell lineages present in up to 22 different biopsies from each tumor. The study demonstrated that the T cells infiltrating these five ovarian tumors were homogenous, with largely the same T cells observed regardless of the biopsy examined. 

These data also complement a global effort under way to validate the need to incorporate a measure of immune-fighting T cells, or TILs, into the staging criteria for patients with solid tumors. Many researchers globally are generating data demonstrating that patients with a “stronger” immune response to their tumor have a statistically higher chance of survival, often irrespective of tumor size or treatment protocol.

“The implication of this study on the field of oncology and diagnostics is profound,” remarked Adaptive CEO and co-founder Chad Robins, whose company is developing a suite of assays that offer researchers and clinicians a reliable, quantitative measure of the presence and diversity of infiltrating tumor immune system cells in solid tumors. “We anticipate the launch of these assays into the clinic to support the diagnosis and staging of cancer patients in the near future,” he said.

The Listwin Family Foundation, the Pacific Ovarian Cancer Research Consortium, the Department of Defense, the Canary Foundation and the Ellison Medical Foundation provided funding for the study.

Adapted from an Adaptive Biotechnologies news release.

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