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Research Highlight | January 14, 2020

New discovery reveals how Hodgkin lymphoma avoids attack from immune cells

A team of lymphoma researchers partly funded by the TFRI has discovered a unique way in which Hodgkin lymphoma cells interact with regular immune cells, providing new insights that may help develop better treatments for this disease.

According to Dr. Christian Steidl (BC Cancer), who led the team, immune cells ordinarily detect and attack illnesses. But new technologies allowed his team to observe the complete tumour environment, and showed something surprising: immune cells with a strong expression of a specific protein supported Hodgkin lymphoma cells rather than fighting them. In some cases these cells formed a shield around the cancer cells, allowing them to grow unharmed.

“Only by evaluating the full cellular ecosystem at an unprecedented single cell resolution could we have detected this unique trait,” says Dr. Christian Steidl, Principal Investigator and Associate Director for the Centre for Lymphoid Cancer at BC Cancer. “Reviewing the complete tumour microenvironment is a critical component to better understanding how diseases adapt within the body and how we can better inform treatment decisions.”

Patients with classical Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer that typically strikes young adults, can often be successfully treated, but as many as 30 per cent of patients relapse after treatment. By understanding how all cells in the tumour ecosystem interact, researchers can better understand how genes and proteins inside cells can influence the progression of cancer. In the future, this knowledge could lead to more effective personalized treatment options. 

The findings were published in the biomedical journal Cancer Discovery.