In a study published in Cancer Cell last week, researchers at the Francis Crick Institute, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and UCL have found immune cell patterns within tumours that can help predict if patients with kidney cancer will respond to immunotherapy.

The scientists looked at 115 tumour samples from 15 people with metastatic clear cell renal cell carcinoma (RCC) who were treated with the immunotherapy drug, nivolumab, in the ADAPTeR clinical trial.

Various tumour samples were taken at different stages of cancer treatment: before immunotherapy, nine weeks after treatment started, after surgery to remove the tumour, and if the treatment stopped working. The researchers looked at various characteristics of the tumour (such as mutations and viral DNA) to measure the immune response to treatment.

The scientists found that an increase in the number of specific proteins (called ‘clonal’ receptors) on the surface of a type of immune cell called the T cell found in the tumour before treatment, was linked to a greater chance of a positive immunotherapy response. And if these T cell receptors were maintained during treatment, this was the strongest indicator that the treatment would be effective.

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