​After utilizing new technologies allowing researchers to observe the complete tumour environment, rather than just a small portion, a unique discovery was made about how Hodgkin lymphoma cells and regular immune cells interact with each other. Ordinarily, immune cells detect and attack illnesses; however in this instance researchers observed that some immune cells with a strong expression of a specific protein supported Hodgkin lymphoma cells rather than fighting them. In some cases these cells formed a shield around the cancer cells, allowing them to grow unharmed. 

“Only by evaluating the full cellular ecosystem at an unprecedented single cell resolution could we have detected this unique trait,” says Dr. Christian Steidl, principal investigator and associate director for the Centre for Lymphoid Cancer at BC Cancer. “Reviewing the complete tumour microenvironment is a critical component to better understanding how diseases adapt within the body and how we can better inform treatment decisions.”

Patients with classical Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer that typically strikes young adults, can often be successfully treated, but as many as 30 per cent of patients relapse after treatment. By understanding how all cells in the tumour ecosystem interact, researchers can better understand how genes and proteins inside cells can influence the progression of cancer. In the future, this knowledge could lead to more effective personalized treatment options. 

The findings were published in the biomedical journal Cancer Discovery.

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