Sidra Medicine Publishes Groundbreaking study on Pediatric Cancer Tumors

Doha, Qatar – Researchers from Human Immunology in collaboration with the Anatomic Pathology and Oncology Divisions at Sidra Medicine have published a ground-breaking study on pediatric cancer tumors.

The study analyzed the relationship between tumor cells and immune cells and the impact of anti-tumor immune responses related to the survival of young cancer patients. It was led by Ms. Shimaa Sherif (first author) as part of her PhD thesis, who was supervised by Dr. Wouter Hendrickx and Dr. Davide Bedognetti from Sidra Medicine and Dr. Borbala Mifsud from Hamad Bin Khalifa University.

Ms. Shimaa Sherif, first author of the study said: “Little is known regarding the importance of immune cells within tumours in children. In fact, despite therapeutic progresses in cancer treatment, it is still the first cause of death by disease in children. Cancer immunotherapy, a therapeutic strategy that unleashes our immune system to fight against cancer cells, has revolutionized the treatment of solid tumors in adults but pediatric tumors are in general resistant to this approach”.

“Tumors are classified either as solid tumors, like those that originate in the kidney or in the bone, and liquid tumors, such as leukemia. The study focused on solid tumors in children. For the first time, we were able to demonstrate that solid pediatric cancers can be classified according to their immunologic compositions. We also identified some specific subtypes that might benefit from immunotherapeutic treatment approaches,” Ms. Sherif continued.

Using the advanced gene expression analysis skills available at Sidra Medicine’s research branch, the team implemented methods and algorithms to quantify anti-tumor immune responses. Gene expression analysis, is a technique that allows to quantify the expression of approximately 20,000 genes in a single tumor biopsy. These genes are then analyzed to quantify the intensity of immune reactions.

The study found that:

Pediatric solid tumors can be divided into six different types according to their immunological parameters, called “immune subtypes”.

Different immune subtypes are associated with distinct risk of death.

An immune signature developed at Sidra Medicine, called immunologic constant of rejection (ICR), accurately predicted the risk of death in patients with certain aggressive tumors such as a subtype of neuroblastoma, one of the most aggressive pediatric cancers.

Specific immune markers associated with unfavorable prognosis were also identified, which could be explored as targets for novel immunotherapeutic approaches.

Knowing the risks associated with the different immune sub-types could be used to decide the intensity and type of systemic treatment for each patient.

Dr. Wouter Hendrix, Principal Investigator from Sidra Medicine’s Laboratory of Pediatric Cancer Omics who was the leading senior author of the study said: “In solid tumors, the study demonstrated that the presence and function of immune cells (also called the immune contexture) firstly predicts the risk of relapse and death and secondly, it identifies a subgroup of patients that might benefit from immunotherapy. Our study also suggests that the quantification of the immune cells and their function in the tumor could be used as an advanced diagnostics tool to estimate the risk of relapse and death and therefore to guide treatment choice. It is taking a precision medicine approach to pediatric cancer treatment.”

Dr. Davide Bedognetti, Executive Director of the Translational Medicine Department, and Director of the Human Immunology Division, who is leading Sidra Medicine’s cancer immunology research said: “This is a timely research particularly coming out to coincide with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month which falls every year in September and highlights Sidra Medicine’s continuing commitment to precision medicine and cancer research. Our call to action to the wider pediatric cancer research community is that more larger studies, aimed at increasing sensitivity and specificity of this immune classification, should be performed to bring this approach into clinical practice.”

Pediatric Cancer Research is also on the agenda at Sidra Medicine’s upcoming Precision Medicine Functional Genomics Conference (PMFG 2022) which will be held at the St. Regis hotel from 23 – 26 September 2022. Dr. Hendrickx will be discussing precision pediatric oncology on Day 4 of PMFG. For details about PMFG and the agenda, please visit www.sidra.org/PMFG

Source: Sidra Medical and Research Center

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