SBP scientists mine public genomics database for cancer immunology

Scientists at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute have explored a large genomic database, revealing over 100 genetic regions newly annotated to affect the immune response to cancer. The findings may help to refine drugs that target the immune response to advanced cancers, which are currently difficult to treat.

Eduard Porta-Pardo and Adam Godzik, first and senior author, respectively, published their work in the journal Cancer Immunology Research.

"By analyzing a large public genomic database, we found 122 potential immune response drivers--genetic regions in which mutations correlate with the presence or absence of immune cells infiltrating the tumors," said Porta-Pardo. "While several of these correspond to proteins with known roles in immune response, many others offer new directions for cancer immunology research, which could point to new targets for immunotherapy."

Drugs that hit aberrant immune responses brought on by cancer have garnered attention since they were first identified to be effective targets even in advanced cancers. Most immunotherapy drugs target cancer by releasing the so-called molecular “brakes” on the immune system, resulting in an orchestrated attack on cancer cells by immune cells.

This therapy works if the immune cell doesn’t mask itself, or block immune cell entry into the tumor, both of which reduce or completely prevent the success of this class of drugs.

"To develop immunotherapies that are relevant to a wide range of cancers, we need to know a lot more about how the immune system interacts with tumors," said Godzik. "Our study provides many new leads for this endeavor."

They’re currently exploring an in-house bioinformatics tool, called domainXplorer, which looks at the correlation between the levels of specific immune cell types within the tumor and the associated genetic regions. Using a publicly available database of genomic data from more than 5000 tumor samples, they soon plan to generate further data sets to help understand cancer immunology. 

- here’s the release
- here’s the journal abstract

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