Solid cancers are complex ecosystems. Cells form ‘communities’ where their behaviour is strongly influenced by the cells around them. How a tumour responds to treatment is controlled by the entire ecosystem, with each type of cell having its own role to play.
In recent ground-breaking research, Associate Professor Swarbrick and his team have discovered several new types of ‘stromal cells’ (cells that make up connective tissue) that reside within breast cancers. Once considered ‘passengers’ of no importance, the team has strong evidence that these stromal cells block immune cells from attacking cancer. There is emerging evidence that this may occur in other cancers too.
Little is known about the similarities and differences between stromal cells found in different cancers and tissues. This gap in knowledge is hindering the development and implementation of potential new drugs that target stromal cells.
In this project, A/Professor Swarbrick and his teamwill study multiple solid cancer types that have a range of responses to immunotherapy.The team will identify which types of stromal cells block immune responses to cancer and how they do this. Once they understand this, they will develop methods to stop the process,giving the immune system the chance to fight back against cancer.
This project will provide much-needed evidence on how some cancers evade the immune system and immunotherapies. If the team is successful in finding a way to target the protective stromal cells, new combination immunotherapies could be developedfor cancers (such as breast and prostate) for which immunotherapy currently has limited success.