Cancer discoveries could enhance immunotherapy, breast cancer care

June 7, 2023
Research emphasizes the importance of understanding the dual role of blood vessels in cancer, as it can help us find better ways to activate the immune system against tumors or stop cancer from spreading to other areas.

The Dudley lab at UVA Cancer Center has unveiled two findings that shed light on the distinct functions of blood vessels within solid tumors.

In a recent scientific publication, Dr. Andrew C. Dudley and his research team from the Dudley lab at UVA Cancer Center have revealed that the efficacy of immune checkpoint blockade, a type of immunotherapy that boosts the immune system's ability to combat cancer and other illnesses, can be significantly improved by targeting blood vessels in a specific manner.

Additionally, in another forthcoming paper, Dr. Dudley and his collaborators have outlined a breakthrough that offers potential in preventing the metastasis, or spread, of breast cancer to different regions of the body.

In their immunotherapy study, Dudley and his team explain how they propose targeting the blood vessels that supply nutrients to a tumor, known as tumor vasculature. Their aim is to facilitate the entry of immune cells into the tumor and enhance their ability to eliminate cancer cells.

The researchers discovered that an enzyme called DNMT1 plays a crucial role in controlling the access of anti-tumor immune cells into the tumor's "microenvironment" through blood vessels. By disabling this enzyme specifically in the blood vessels, they observed a reduction in vessel growth and an increased ability for immune cells to enter the tumor. This improvement in immune cell entry resulted in a better response to immunotherapies.

In another research paper, Dudley and his team discovered that highly metastatic breast cancer cells have the ability to stimulate the activity of fibroblast cells, which then modify the surrounding environment. This modification facilitates the escape of cancer cells from the tumor, allowing them to enter the lymphatic vessels and spread to the lymph nodes. The researchers suggest that by using drugs to disrupt this process at an early stage, it may be possible to prevent the spread of breast cancer. This highlights a potential strategy for preventing the metastasis of breast cancer cells.

Dudley and his collaborators have published their immune checkpoint blockade findings in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

The metastasis findings have been published in the journal Cancer Research.

UVA release