A new breast cancer treatment that targets cells that help tumours survive, rather than directly attacking cancer itself, could help prevent the growth and spread of the disease.

It comes after a study found that using immunotherapy to treat breast cancer “has had limited success”, but their breakthrough could help “develop a more effective and targeted treatment”.

The team led by the Institute of Cancer Research, London, explored the potential of a type of immunotherapy known as Car-T.

As part of the treatment, T-cells, blood cells that protect the body from infection and disease, are genetically modified in a lab to make them better at killing cancer and returning to the blood.

In England, Car-T is offered on the NHS to children and young people with certain blood cancers and is also recommended to adults with types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

Breakthrough in breast cancer could help treat the disease more effectively 

Researchers have shared that the therapy on solid cancers “remains a challenge” due to a lack of antigens that are unique to tumour cells.

To overcome this, they targeted the treatment at cells surrounding the tumour’s blood supply, which make a protein known as endosialin.

The treatment, tested on mice, found that targeting the protein disrupted the tumour’s blood supply and stopped it from growing or spreading.

Discussing the research and treatment, Dr Frances Turrell, postdoctoral training fellow in the division of breast cancer research at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “This is the very first study that demonstrates the effectiveness of using endosialin-directed Car-T cells to reduce breast cancer tumour growth and spread.

“Immunotherapy has had limited success in treating breast cancer but by targeting the cells that support the tumour and help it to survive, rather than the cancer cells directly, we’ve found a promising way to overcome the challenges posed by the tumour environment and develop a more effective and targeted treatment for breast cancer.”

Alongside the team's work on breast cancer treatment, they have also tested the treatment on lung cancer tumours in mice and recorded similar results but are still developing the work further.


Breast cancer symptoms to look out for, causes and treatment available 

The study was funded by Breast Cancer Now who shared that around 11,500 women and 85 men die from the disease in the UK every year, the equivalent to one every 45 minutes.

Dr Simon Vincent, director of research, support and influence at the charity, said the findings, published in The Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer, “could lead to much-needed targeted treatments for people with breast cancer”.

Dr Vincent added: “Now we know that the treatment works in principle in mice, Breast Cancer Now researchers can continue to develop this immunotherapy to make it suitable for people, as well as to understand the full effect it could have and who it may benefit the most.”