Cell counts provide a read on ovarian cancer

New technology might discern which tumors are most dangerous

A new test that tallies up useful immune cells in cancerous tissue could clarify a patient’s prognosis and possibly guide treatment, researchers say.

The technology counts helpful immune cells called tumor-infiltrating T lymphocytes. High counts of these cells in ovarian cancer patients have previously been associated with longer survival. But researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle note that existing technologies for measuring the tumor-attacking cells are cumbersome and imprecise.

The team devised a procedure that identifies gene signatures specific to these immune cells and applied it to ovarian tumors that had been removed from 30 patients and stored. In the months or years after surgery, the patients’ survival ranged from one month to more than 10 years. Tumors removed from patients who had survived for more than five years had 2.5 times as many of the immune cells as those taken from patients who had lived less than two years.

The researchers report the findings in the Dec. 4 Science Translational Medicine.

The approach also showed promise with leukemia samples. The researchers suggest the technology might prove useful in various cancers.

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