Scientists discover breast cancer cells that dodge immune system, promote tumor growth

January 03, 2016

"Our finding that Hsp27 aids tumor progression is just the start - we know there are several other molecules that help breast tumor cells suppress the immune system and we hope to identify more of them in future research," noted De.

Hsp27 is a ubiquitous protein that is important in all the body's cells. When it remains inside cells at normal levels it acts as a chaperone, protecting cells from stress, such as exposure to high heat or chemicals. Only when the protein is let loose outside cells does it appear to have a detrimental effect on the immune system.

To carry out the study, De worked closely with clinicians in surgical oncology and plastic surgery at the Medical Center to obtain and analyze tumor-containing breast tissue samples from breast cancer patients undergoing surgery and normal breast tissue samples from healthy volunteers undergoing breast reduction. He also collected and tested blood samples from untreated breast cancer patients and age-matched healthy women.

Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in the United States. It is also the second leading cause of cancer-related death in American women, behind lung cancer. The development of treatment strategies that stop a tumor's ability to silence or circumvent the immune system require a better understanding of tumors' various avoidance mechanisms, such as the one identified by De.

De plans to continue research on Hsp27 in breast cancer, studying whether blocking Hsp27 slows tumor growth.

Source: University of Rochester Medical Center