Tumors consist not only of cancer cells but also stromal (connective tissue) and immune cells that constitute the tumor microenvironment. Researchers have only recently begun to appreciate the clinical impact of this microenvironment.
In many cancer types, including breast cancer, tumors with a higher proportion of connective tissue are associated with worse clinical outcomes. In contrast, tumors infiltrated by a type of white blood cell that kills cancer (called CD8 T cells) have better clinical outcomes. Therefore, tumors behave differently based on the collective behavior of the microenvironment.
This SU2C–BCRF Breast Cancer Convergence Research Team hypothesizes that the microenvironment is an important determinant of the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy treatments. The study brings together expertise in histology, image analysis, cell culturing, bioinformatics, ecology modeling, and nanotechnology to create a three-dimensional model of the tumor microenvironment that incorporates different cell types and genomic information. This will provide insights into the development of new therapeutic and imaging applications.
Researchers are comparing the breast cancer tumor microenvironment with that of normal breast tissue. The goal is to capture the basic way different cell types affect each other and use that knowledge to develop new models with which to test potential therapies.