Benaroya Research Institute evaluates immunology approach to blocking breast cancer

April 23, 2014

Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) recently received a grant to research how blocking a particular molecule in metastatic breast cancer reduces both the growth of primary tumors and the number of lung metastases. BRI scientists have found in disease models that blocking this protein can shrink tumors by 60% to 80% and can keep the tumor from metastasizing or spreading to the lung. The $1.8 million, five-year grant comes from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

“We are excited to pursue this area of cancer research that links tumor growth to the type of immune system molecules that my laboratory has focused on for many years,” says principal investigator Steven F. Ziegler, PhD, Director of the Immunology Program at BRI. “We are looking at ways to block this protein in model systems that could be translated to humans.”

In a study of the protein, thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP), in allergic responses Ziegler’s team used lung cancer as a “negative control group” and found very high levels of the protein in people with lung tumors. In 2005, Ziegler and colleagues discovered that TSLP was instrumental in initiating the inflammatory cascade that leads to the development of asthma and other allergic diseases. Since then, the researchers also found TSLP to be critical in other immune system diseases.

BRI researchers will test several ways to block TSLP to evaluate potential for treatments to help eliminate the cancer. “We will assess the utility of measuring TSLP to inform prognosis and how this might indicate whether more specific treatment plans may be necessary in some cases,” says Ziegler. His team also will be studying the protein versican, which has been shown to turn on TSLP in tumor metastasis. Learn more about BRI and its work in immune system and autoimmune disease research.

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