The team — comprising researchers from IISc’s Centre for BioSystems Science and Engineering, the Mazumdar Shaw Centre for Translational Research and the Mazumdar Shaw Medical Foundation — analysed tumour and blood samples from individuals with gliomas (tumours that occur in the brain) to identify surface proteins on immune cells in the blood whose levels were closely linked to tumour progression.
In the study that has been published in OncoImmunology, researchers pointed out that late-stage gliomas such as grade three and grade four gliomas are associated with a poor prognosis — the tumour is harder to treat and the patient is likely to have a low chance of survival.
“Our pilot study suggests that we can potentially use two blood-based biomarkers present on immune cells to identify patients who might not perform well with particular treatment strategies,” Siddharth Jhunjhunwala, assistant professor, BSSE, and senior author of the study says.
Such a blood-based testing methodology, researchers said, could help clinicians better understand disease progression and choose a more effective treatment regimen.
Pointing out that conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy are often ineffective in treating these tumours, they said it has prompted a shift to newer techniques like immunotherapy, which involves provoking our own immune system to attack the tumour cells.
However, attempts to use some of the standard immunotherapies to treat gliomas have met with limited success, Jhunjhunwala explains, adding: “This led to a specific scientific gap that we were trying to address, which is to understand the immune profile in the tumour microenvironment.”
The team collected blood and tumour samples from patients with grade three and grade four gliomas, and compared the numbers of specific immune cells called monocytes and neutrophils in these samples.
“Because these are biosamples, they need to be preserved and processed very well without loss of cell viability. We had to split up methodology between two institutes — here and at the lab at the Mazumdar Shaw Foundation. They would do all the processing and fixation to retain the viability of the cells, and then we would do the characterisation and immunostaining here,” explains Jayashree V Raghavan, PhD student at BSSE and first author of the study.