UMCG researchers receive KWF grant for research into the effect of immunotherapy in triple-negative breast cancer

UMCG researchers Marcel van Vugt and Rudolf Fehrmann, together with the research team of Jos Jonkers of the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek/Dutch Cancer Institute in Amsterdam, have received a subsidy of 1 million euros for research into the effect of immunotherapy in triple- negative breast cancer.

Better treatment necessary to improve prognosis triple-negative breast cancer

Triple-negative breast cancer is an aggressive form of breast cancer that often affects young women. The tumor often grows rapidly and spreads faster than other forms of breast cancer. Patients affected by this form of breast cancer have the worst prognosis compared to other forms of breast cancer. Targeted treatment is not yet available for triple-negative breast cancer.

Van Vugt explains: 'This group of patients needs better treatment than chemotherapy to improve the prognosis. Immunotherapy is becoming available for many cancers, but this variant responds poorly to it. With this research we want to find out why some tumors respond to immunotherapy and others do not. Our ultimate goal is to offer a tailor-made therapy that ensures that immunotherapy also works for these patients and that they can get better treatment.'

Discover why immunotherapy doesn't work well

Based on the characteristics of triple negative breast tumors, it was expected that they would respond to immunotherapy. This is not the case unfortunately. 'With this research we want to find out how the cancer cells have adapted to escape the immune system. We think we have found a gene, the MYC gene, that is responsible for this.' According to van Vugt and Fehrmann.

The researchers will investigate this in various ways. In the AVL/NKI, mouse models of breast cancer are examined to see whether the MYC gene can be therapeutically switched off in order to make the cancer cells sensitive to immunotherapy. Within this project, at the UMCG, we conduct cell biological research in which we specifically switch genes on or off in tumor cells, in order to investigate the effect on the immune system. In addition, 'big data' is used to examine whether patterns can be discovered in the genetic information of tumors that explain why some tumors respond correctly and others do not respond to immunotherapy. This study will last four years and is a continuation of previous successful collaborations with the Dutch Cancer Institute (AVL/NKI) and the UMCG.