BC researchers uncover the tricks ovarian cancers use to escape the immune system

17 May 2018

Each year in British Columbia, more than 300 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and approximately 250 women die from the disease. Now a team of BC Cancer researchers, with funding support from MSFHR, have uncovered the tricks the deadliest ovarian cancer uses to escape the immune system.

Immunotherapy is one of the most exciting and active areas of modern cancer research, focused on stimulating a patient’s own immune system to recognize and destroy tumour cells. However, high-grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSC) — the most common and lethal subtype of epithelial ovarian cancers — often responds poorly to current immunotherapies and 80 per cent of women relapse despite an initial response to treatment.

New research led by MSFHR-funded researchers and published in Cell sheds light on how HGSC tumour cells escape attack from immune cells, setting the stage for a better understanding of how and why patients respond to immunotherapy, and leading to exciting new ideas for more powerful treatments.

“Our findings reveal fundamentally new insights into the cause and consequences of ovarian cancer and immune cell interaction,” said Dr. Sohrab Shah, a senior scientist at BC Cancer, a UBC associate professor, senior author of the study and three-time MSFHR award recipient. “The results provide a new lens through which we can interpret a host of recently launched ovarian cancer immunotherapy clinical trials around the world.”

The findings suggest that as the immune system mounts an attack on a tumour, some cancer cells are eliminated while others evolve to resist attack. The researchers identified combinations of genetic changes that help HGSC cells escape the immune system and they plan to use this knowledge in the development of more powerful experimental immunotherapies that can overcome these escape mechanisms.

MSFHR-funded authors: