Researchers at the UW Carbone Cancer Center have set their sights on a protein biomarker that could help doctors more accurately predict which patients are helped by certain treatments.

This biomarker is part of the tumor microenvironment, or matrix, which is made up of the non-cancerous cells and tissues surrounding a cancerous growth.

“To understand who might benefit from immunotherapies, we need to know what controls the immune microenvironment and what controls the infiltration of T cells, and this study is a big step in that direction,” said Dusty Deming, a physician-researcher specializing in colon cancer.

T cells are types of white blood cells that play a large role in immunity. Several distinct types of T cells exist, including ones that boost other white blood cells’ response to invaders, some that hunt down and kill virus-infected or tumor cells, and others that recognize these unwanted cells based on previous encounters.

Deming says cancers that are infiltrated by T cells usually have better outcomes in early stages, and also react more favorably to immunotherapies, which improve the immune system’s reaction to cancer.

He partnered with UWCCC hematologist and researcher Fotis Asimakopoulos on this project, building upon Asimakopoulos’ previous work on versican and versikine, two related proteins which seem to influence the inflammation and immune response surrounding certain types of cancer.

While versican has been found to worsen the immune response to myeloma — a cancer of the body’s plasma cells — its derivative, called versikine, has a more beneficial effect.

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