Young Dana-Farber investigators Jennifer Guerriero, PhD and Sarah Hill, MD, PhD are on a mission to find better treatments for breast, ovarian and other cancers. Their research depends on patient tissue samples obtained by surgeons in Dana-Farber’s Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers.

Why are Tumors Vulnerable to Certain Drugs but not others?

Well this is a fundamental question the spirited investigators seek to answer. By exploiting normal and cancerous tissues—collected, banked and grown in the laboratory, the investigators examine the microenvironment of the tumor cells—e.g. the matrix of connective tissue and various types of cells interacting with the tumor cells—and seek to shed light on the role of immune cells surrounding the tumor. As it turns out, some of these cells can suppress an attack on the cancer while others can fuel the attack.

Breast Tumor Immunology Laboratory (B-TIL)

Guerriero is the director of the Breast Tumor Immunology Laboratory—known as B-TIL, which she has been building together with her mentor, Elizabeth Mittendorf, MD, PhD, the Rob and Karen Hale Distinguished Chair in Surgical Oncology and director of Dana-Farber’s Breast Immuno-Oncology program.                                                                                                                          

The B-TIL lab obtains samples of blood, tumors and other patient tissues for studies focused on the immune regulation of breast cancer. Guerriero is working to understand why tumors may be resistant to T-cell immunotherapy, and to identify novel targets of immunotherapy. She zeros in on the role of immune cells, and the relationship of T-cells and macrophages, cells that can suppress the immune system’s ability to fight tumors, but also potentially a constituent part of an antitumor response.

Guerriero notes that women with breast and ovarian cancer could initially respond to therapy with PARP inhibitor drugs, but usually relapse because the cancer becomes resistant. She suggests that suppressive macrophages surrounding the tumor eventually sap the power of the T cells to fight the tumor.

Using Tumor Samples to Identify Effective Drugs

Sarah Hill, MD, PhD, is a women’s and perinatal pathologist by training, and an associate pathologist in the laboratory of Alan D’Andrea, MD, director of the Susan F. Smith Center. Dr. Hill is focusing her research efforts on ovarian cancer and she has been leveraging surgical specimens to create “organoids”—miniscule spheres of cells that mimic a tumor. She and Dr. D’Andrea are testing the potential of ovarian organoids to rapidly screen drugs and identify those that are likely to be effective against a specific patient’s tumor.

For more details follow the link to the Dana-Farber blog.

Lead Research/Investigator

Jennifer Guerriero, PhD 

Sarah Hill, MD, PhD 

Source: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

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