An international team of researchers has discovered how the so-called tertiary lymphoid-like structures can help the human immune defence to find cancer cells and destroy them. Researchers from the InFLAMES research flagship of the University of Turku, Finland, participated in the study and the research article was published in the esteemed Cancer Cell journal.
Earlier studies have shown that patients’ response to cancer immunotherapy is better if immune cells develop an ectopic lymphoid organ in the cancerous tumour. These organs are called tertiary lymphoid-like structures (TLLSs).
An international research team led by the Belgian VIB-KU Leuven Center for Cancer Biology set out to study how the TLLSs are formed and what are the structures and mechanisms behind their functions. From the University of Turku, Academician Sirpa Jalkanen, Academy Research Fellow Maija Hollmén and Academy Research Fellow Akira Takeda from the InFLAMES research flagship participated in the study.
The researchers discovered that the TLLSs in cancer tissue form blood vessels similar to those that the immune cells normally use to enter regular lymph nodes. Therefore, crucial immune defence cells can gain access to the cancer tissue through the specialised blood vessels appearing in the TLLSs. Moreover, killer T cells that can fight and destroy cancer cells develop in the niches surrounding these vessels as well.
“If we could discover mechanisms and therapies that induce the formation of TLLSs and these highly specialised blood vessels, we could see a significant improvement in the effectiveness of immunotherapies against cancer,” explains Academician Sirpa Jalkanen.
Jalkanen was happy with the work of the international research group.
“Conducting this kind of research requires new and modern research methods and extensive expertise. In this project, we used both animal models and patient material. We discovered a great deal of new information about the formation of TLLSs, which was effectively a mystery before,” says Jalkanen.
The research article was published in the esteemed Cancer Cell journal in November 2022.
InFLAMES Flagship is a joint initiative of University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University, Finland. The goal of the Flagship is to integrate the immunological and immunology-related research activities to develop and exploit new diagnostic and therapeutic tools for personalised medicine. InFLAMES is funded by the Academy of Finland.