Scientists have designed a new strategy to noninvasively track macrophages in tumors in the breast and brain. Macrophages are immune cells that play a crucial role in the immune system, carrying out a number of functions, including clearing out dead cells and digesting microorganisms. These cells are often recruited by cancer to increase resistance to treatment and support tumor growth.
The Ludwig Cancer Research study, led by Davide Croci and Johanna Joyce, also involved their colleague Ruud B. van Heeswijk from the Lausanne University Hospital.
Joyce stated that monitoring tumor-associated macrophages had the potential to substantially improve how various cancers were therapeutically managed. She explains that brain tumors depended on the presence of these immune cells, noting that targeting macrophages would be a good strategy for treatment.
The Joyce laboratory has been looking into the crucial role played by tumor-associated macrophages and other immune cells in tumors for several years. During this time, researchers discovered how resident macrophages of the microglia, brain and monocyte-derived macrophages differentially populate brain metastases and gliomas. Their research has also showed how tumor-associated macrophages contributed to the therapeutic resistance and recurrence of brain tumors.
At the moment, the immune landscape of tumors in the brain (glioma) can only be viewed using a biopsy, which is a highly invasive procedure.
For their study, the researchers injected two different types of nanoparticles into mice models of breast cancer, gliomas and breast-to-brain tumors. Each of these nanoparticles emits a discernible and distinctive signal that can be detected using an MRI.
The scientists showed that these nanoparticles accumulated in tumor-associated macrophages, which afforded them noninvasive and direct means to use multispectral magnetic resonance imaging to find out the location and abundance of these immune cells across tumor geography. The MRI led to the discovery that labeled tumor-associated macrophages accumulated around the malformed and leaky blood vessels caused by tumors.
The researchers note that this finding could have implications for combination therapies being developed to normalize tumor vasculature in order to enhance delivery of drugs. They also discovered that while monocyte-derived macrophages and microglia were found in almost equal numbers in untreated gliomas, monocyte-derived macrophages tended to cluster together away from microglia in tumors that recurred after radiotherapy.
Radiotherapy is a standard glioma treatment while microglia are immune cells found in the central nervous system.
In the report, Joyce noted that the MRI highlighted previously unknown niches for tumor-associated macrophages in dormant, recurrent and untreated gliomas. The study’s findings were reported in the “Science Translational Medicine” journal.
As more information becomes available about what happens inside malignant tumors, the additional insights could give the likes of CNS Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: CNSP) the basis it needs to make major breakthroughs in finding effective treatments to brain cancers.
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