Posts Tagged ‘lymphocytes’

Another Promise for Immune Oncology

Curator: Larry H. Berstein, MD, FCAP



Preclinical Data Presented at ASCO 2016 Annual Meeting Demonstrate that Single-Agent NKTR-214 Produces a Large Increase in Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes to Provide Durable Anti-Tumor Activity

SAN FRANCISCO, June 6, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Nektar Therapeutics (NASDAQ: NKTR) today announced new preclinical data for NKTR-214, an immuno-stimulatory CD-122 biased cytokine currently being evaluated in cancer patients with solid tumors in a Phase 1/2 clinical trial being conducted at MD Anderson Cancer Center and Yale Cancer Center. The new preclinical data presented demonstrate that treatment with single-agent NKTR-214 mobilizes tumor-killing T cells into colon cancer tumors.  In addition, mouse pharmacodynamics data demonstrated that a single dose of NKTR-214 can increase and sustain STAT5 phosphorylation (a marker of IL-2 pathway activation) through one week post-dose. These data were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL from June 3-7, 2016.

“These latest data build upon our growing body of preclinical evidence demonstrating the unique mechanism of NKTR-214,” added Jonathan Zalevsky, PhD, Vice President, Biology and Preclinical Development at Nektar Therapeutics. “The studies presented at ASCO show that NKTR-214 promotes tumor-killing immune cell accumulation directly in the tumor, providing a mechanistic basis for its significant anti-tumor activity in multiple preclinical tumor models.  The ability to grow TILs1 in vivo and replenish the immune system is exceptionally important. We’ve now learned that many human tumors lack sufficient TIL populations and the addition of the NKTR-214 TIL-enhancing MOA could improve the success of many checkpoint inhibitors and other agents, and allow more patients to benefit from immuno-therapy.”

In studies previously published for NKTR-214, when mice bearing established breast cancer tumors are treated with NKTR-214 and anti-CTLA4 (a checkpoint inhibitor therapy known as ipilimumab for human treatment), a large proportion of mice become tumor-free. Anti-tumor immune memory was demonstrated when tumor-free mice were re-challenged by implant with a new breast cancer tumor and then found to clear the new tumor, without further therapy.  The new data presented at ASCO demonstrate that upon re-challenge, there is a rapid expansion of newly proliferative CD8 T cells and particularly CD8 effector memory T cells. Both cell populations were readily detectable in multiple tissues (blood, spleen, and lymph nodes) and likely contribute to the anti-tumor effect observed in these animals. Adoptive transfer studies confirmed the immune-memory effect as transplant of splenocytes from tumor-free mice into naïve recipients provided the ability to resist tumor growth.

“NKTR-214 provides a highly unique immune activation profile that allows it to access the IL-2 pathway without pushing the immune system into pathological overdrive,” said Dr. Steve Doberstein, Senior Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer. “NKTR-214’s unique immune-stimulatory profile and antibody-like dosing schedule positions it as a potentially important medicine within the immuno-oncology landscape.”

The data presentation at ASCO entitled, “Immune memory in nonclinical models after treatment with NKTR-214, an engineered cytokine biased towards expansion of CD8+ T cells in tumor,” can be accessed at

NKTR-214 is a CD122-biased agonist designed to stimulate the patient’s own immune system to kill tumor cells by preferentially activating production of specific immune cells which promote tumor killing, including CD8-positive T cells and Natural Killer (NK) cells, within the tumor micro-environment.  CD122, which is also known as the Interleukin-2 receptor beta subunit, is a key signaling receptor that is known to increase proliferation of these types of T cells.2

In preclinical studies, NKTR-214 demonstrated a highly favorable mean ratio of 450:1 within the tumor micro-environment of CD8-positive effector T cells relative to regulatory T cells.3 Furthermore, the pro-drug design of NKTR-214 enables an antibody-like dosing regimen for an immuno-stimulatory cytokine.4

About the NKTR-214 Phase 1/2 Clinical Study
A Phase 1/2 clinical study is underway to evaluate NKTR-214 in patients with advanced solid tumors, including melanoma, renal cell carcinoma and non-small cell lung cancer. The first stage of this study, which is expected to be complete in the second half of 2016, is evaluating escalating doses of single-agent NKTR-214 treatment in approximately 20 patients with solid tumors. The primary objective of the first stage of the study is to evaluate the safety and efficacy of NKTR-214 and to identify a recommended Phase 2 dose. In addition, the study will also assess the immunologic effect of NKTR-214 on TILs and other immune cells in both blood and tumor tissue, and it will also include TCR repertoire profiling. Dose expansion cohorts are planned to evaluate NKTR-214 in specific tumor types, including melanoma, renal cell carcinoma and non-small cell lung cancer.

The NKTR-214 clinical study is being conducted initially at two primary investigator sites: MD Anderson Cancer Center under Drs. Patrick Hwu and Adi Diab; and Yale Cancer Center, under Drs. Mario Sznol and Michael Hurwitz.  Patients and physicians interested in the ongoing NKTR-214 study can visit the “Clinical Trials” section of using identifier 2015-0573 or visit

About Nektar
Nektar Therapeutics has a robust R&D pipeline and portfolio of approved partnered medicines in oncology, pain, immunology and other therapeutic areas. In the area of oncology, Nektar is developing NKTR-214, an immuno-stimulatory CD122-biased agonist, that is in Phase 1/2 clinical development for patients with solid tumors. ONZEALD™ (etirinotecan pegol), a long-acting topoisomerase I inhibitor, is being developed for patients with advanced breast cancer and brain metastases and is partnered with Daiichi Sankyo in Europe.  In the area of pain, Nektar has an exclusive worldwide license agreement with AstraZeneca for MOVANTIK™ (naloxegol), the first FDA-approved once-daily oral peripherally-acting mu-opioid receptor antagonist (PAMORA) medication for the treatment of opioid-induced constipation (OIC), in adult patients with chronic, non-cancer pain. The product is also approved in the European Union as MOVENTIG® (naloxegol) and is indicated for adult patients with OIC who have had an inadequate response to laxatives. The AstraZeneca agreement also includes NKTR-119, an earlier stage development program that is a co-formulation of MOVANTIK and an opioid. NKTR-181, a wholly owned mu-opioid analgesic molecule for chronic pain conditions, is in Phase 3 development. In hemophilia, Nektar has a collaboration agreement with Baxalta for ADYNOVATE™ [Antihemophilic Factor (Recombinant)], a longer-acting PEGylated Factor VIII therapeutic approved in the U.S. and Japan for patients over 12 with hemophilia A. In anti-infectives, the company has two collaborations with Bayer Healthcare, Cipro Inhale in Phase 3 for non-cystic fibrosis bronchiectasis and Amikacin Inhale in Phase 3 for patients with Gram-negative pneumonia.

Immune memory in nonclinical models after treatment with NKTR-214, an engineered cytokine biased towards expansion of CD8+ T cells in tumor

Deborah H. Charych, Vidula Dixit, Peiwen Kuo, Werner Rubas, Janet Cetz, Rhoneil Pena, John L. Langowski, Ute Hoch, Murali Addepalli, Stephen K. Doberstein, Jonathan Zalevsky | Nektar Therapeutics, San Francisco, CA


• Recombinant human IL-2 (aldesleukin) is an effective immunotherapy for metastatic melanoma and renal cell carcinoma with durable responses in ~ 10% of patients, but side effects limit its use

• IL-2 has pleiotropic immune modulatory effects[1] which may limit its anti-tumor activity

• Binding to the heterodimeric receptor IL-2Rβγ leads to expansion of tumor-killing CD8+ memory effector T cells and NK cells

• Binding to the heterotrimeric IL-2Rαβγ leads to expansion of suppressive Treg which antagonizes anti-tumor immunity

• NKTR-214 delivers a controlled, sustained and biased signal through the IL-2 receptor pathway.

• The prodrug design of NKTR-214 comprises recombinant human IL-2 chemically conjugated with multiple releasable chains of polyethylene glycol (PEG)

• Slow release of PEG chains over time generates active PEG-conjugated IL-2 metabolites of increasing bioactivity, improving pharmacokinetics and tolerability compared to aldesleukin

• Active NKTR-214 metabolites bias IL-2R activation towards CD8 T cells over Treg[2]


NKTR-214 was engineered to release PEG at physiological pH with predictable kinetics.

The kinetics of PEG release was evaluated in vitro by quantifying free PEG over time using HPLC.

The release of PEG from IL-2 followed predictable kinetics. Symbols = measured data; Line = curve fit based on first order kinetic model. R2 =0.997


In mice, a single dose of NKTR-214 gradually builds and sustains pSTAT5 levels through seven days post-dose. In contrast, IL-2 produces a rapid burst of pSTAT5 that declines four hours post-dose

C57BL/6 mice were treated with either one dose of NKTR-214 (blue) or aldesleukin (red); blood samples were collected at various time points post-dose. pSTAT5 in peripheral blood CD3+ T cells was assessed using flow cytometry. Top graph is an inset showing the 0-4 hour time period. Bottom graph shows the full 10 day time course of the experiment. Histograms on right depict pSTAT5 MFI for IL-2 (red) and NKTR-214 (blue)


Mobilization of lymphocytes from the periphery into the tumor is an inherent property of NKTR-214

A. C57BL/6 mice bearing established subcutaneous B16F10 melanoma tumors were dosed with either NKTR-214 (2 mg/kg, i.v., q9d x2) or aldesleukin (3 mg/kg, i.p. bid x5, two cycles)

B. Tumor infiltrating lymphocytes were analyzed by flow cytometry from treated tumors (*, p<0.05 relative to vehicle; ‡, p<0.05 relative to aldesleukin)

C. Tumor growth inhibition from NKTR-214 was compromised when NKTR-214 was co-administered with Fingolimod, an agent that blocks lymphocyte trafficking.[3], (C57BL/6 mice, B16F10 subcutaneous mouse melanoma). Fingolimod was dosed qd p.o. 5 ug/animal. Lymphocyte count in blood was significantly reduced as expected, for study duration. Tumor growth inhibition (TGI) shown at study endpoint. (One-way ANOVA, Dunnets multiple comparison test ***=p<0.001, ****=p<0.0001 vs. vehicle; #=p<0.05 vs. NKTR-214)

D. Balb/c mice bearing established subcutaneous CT26 colon tumors were dosed with NKTR-214, 0.8 mg/kg i.v. q9dx3 or checkpoint inhibitors, 200 ug/mouse 2x/week. (*, p<0.05 relative to vehicle) E. T cell infiltration into mouse CT26 colon tumors was determined by TIL DNA fraction 7 days post-dose, Adaptive Biotechnologies, n=4 per group


The combination of NKTR-214 and anti-CTLA4 delivers durable anti-tumor activity and vigorous immune memory recall Durable treatment-induced immune memory demonstrated by:

A. Rejection of new tumors implanted into tumor-free mice without further therapy,

Durable anti-tumor immune memory demonstrated by rechallenging treated tumor-free mice with new tumors. New tumors can be eliminated without further treatment.

Balb/c mice initially were implanted with EMT6 murine breast tumors and treated with NKTR-214 0.8mg/kg q9dx3 and anti-CTLA4 200ug/mouse 2x/week. Several weeks later, tumor-free mice were rechallenged with tumor cells EMT6 (blue), CT26 (red) or vehicle (black). Tumor outgrowth occurred when non-related CT26 tumors were implanted. In contrast, tumors were rejected by up to 100% of mice when the same EMT6 tumors were implanted (2×106 EMT6 or CT26 cells)

B. Production of proliferating CD8 effector memory T cells in 3 tissues after tumor rechallenge and

Durable anti-tumor immune memory demonstrated by vigorous proliferative (Ki67+) CD8 T cell responses. The increased activity of these cells is greatest for mice previously treated with NKTR-214 and anti-CTLA4, rechallenged with the same tumor type (blue) compared to a different tumor (red) or mice who were never treated (brown, gray). Treated mice received therapy ~6 months prior. Top row shows total CD8+ cells, bottom row shows effector memory CD8+ in 3 tissues. The role of CD8 and NK cells in mediating the anti-tumor response was previously shown using depletion antibodies.[2]

Mice that became tumor-free from NKTR-214+anti-CTLA4 therapy and treatment naïve controls were rechallenged ~6 months later with either EMT6, CT26 or Sham buffer. No further treatment was given. Immune cells in spleen, lymph and blood were enumerated by flow cytometry, n=4/group. Graphs indicate proliferating Ki67+ total CD8 T cells (top) and effector memory CD8+ CD44hi CD67L-lo (bottom).

C. Transference of immune memory from tumor-free mice to recipient mice.

Durable anti-tumor immune memory demonstrated by adoptive spleen transfer from tumor-free mice to recipient mice. The recipients resist tumor growth without further treatment.

Mouse EMT6 breast tumors were implanted in recipient mice 1 day after receiving spleens from tumor-free mice or naïve mice; (****=p<0.0001 vs. normal control , two way ANOVA Tukey’s multiple comparison test, ns = non-significant)



• NKTR-214 mechanism of action delivers a controlled, sustained and biased signal to the IL-2 pathway, potentially mitigating systemic toxicities observed from bolus activation by IL-2 (aldesleukin)

• NKTR-214 provides marked efficacy in multiple tumor models, alone or in combination, using lower doses of reduced administration frequency

• Mobilization of T cells from the periphery into the tumor is an inherent property of NKTR-214

• NKTR-214 mechanism enables durable complete anti-tumor response with immune memory recall when combined with anti-CTLA4

• Treatment provides tumor-free mice that consistently eliminate new tumors even in the absence of further therapy • Mice becoming tumor-free from prior treatment reject new tumors by mounting a vigorous CD8+ effector memory response up to 6 months post-therapy

• Adoptive spleen transfer from tumor-free mice confers an anti-tumor response in recipient mice in the absence of further therapy

• NKTR-214 is being evaluated in an ongoing outpatient Phase 1/2 clinical trial for the treatment of solid tumors



[1] Boyman et al, Nature Reviews, 2012

[2] Charych et al, Clinical Cancer Research, 2016

[3] Spranger et al, J. Immunoth.. Cancer, 2014






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New insights in cancer, cancer immunogenesis and circulating cancer cells

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator


Revised 4/20/2016


Circulating Tumor Cells Traverse Tiny Vasculature

Clusters of tumor-derived cells can pass through narrow channels that mimic human capillaries, scientists show in vitro and in zebrafish.

By Tanya Lewis | April 18, 2016

A stained cluster of cancer cells passes through a 7-μm channel in vitro. PNAS, AU ET AL

Clusters of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) may play a larger role in cancer metastasis than previously thought. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have now shown that these clusters can squeeze through microfluidic channels just 7 microns (μm) in diameter. The team’s findings were published today (April 18) in PNAS.

“There’s a common belief in the field that even single CTCs traversing through capillary beds would destroy the majority of them through physical shearing,” Edward Cho of Spectrum Genomics wrote in an email toThe Scientist. This study “demonstrates new evidence that clusters of CTCs may have a mechanism to prevent shearing as they traverse through small capillaries, and thus may have greater metastatic potential than previously thought,” added Cho, who was not involved in the work.

Most cancer deaths are caused by tumors metastasizing to different organs. Traditionally, clusters of these cells were thought to be too large to pass through capillaries, instead getting stuck and forming blood clots. Yet, more recently, these clusters have been detected in blood drawn from cancer patients. “If they’re so big, how can we find them in blood collection in the arm?” study coauthor Mehmet Toner of Massachusetts General Hospital told The Scientist.

To investigate, Toner and his colleagues created 7-μm-wide microfluidic channels designed to mimic the mechanical properties of human capillaries, and filmed clusters of CTCs—derived from patient blood samples and from cell lines—as they moved through the channels.

As the videos revealed, clusters of 10 to 20 cells loosely disassembled as they entered the channels and moved through the tiny passageways, single-file—like a crowd of people holding hands as they squeeze through a narrow alleyway in a line formation. The cells were “squeezed beyond belief,” said Toner. Upon exiting the channel, the CTCs reassembled into nonlinear clusters.

Next, the researchers sought to validate their model in vivo. They injected human CTC clusters into the bloodstreams of 3-day-old transgenic zebrafish embryos. Zebrafish are a good model for humans because their capillaries are almost identical to those of humans in size and pressure, Toner explained. Again the researchers found that the CTC clusters could traverse the fish capillaries.

A cluster of four tumor cells elongates and compresses as it travels through a 7-μm microfluidic capillary.PNAS, AU ET AL.

Clusters of tumor cells (green) moving through a transgenic zebrafish blood vessel (arrows indicate direction of flow through dorsal aorta, caudal vein, and pivot point)PNAS, AU ET AL.

Finally, Toner’s team showed that these CTC clusters could be broken up with certain drugs. The researchers treated clusters with either FAK inhibitor 14, a molecule overproduced by many tumors that inhibits a protein involved in cell-cell adhesion, or the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel, which also weakens cell junctions. When the researchers injected the treated clusters into the microfluidic channels, the clusters broke up into smaller clumps or single CTCs, suggesting a possible avenue for treatment.

“It’s a very interesting paper,” Sanjiv Sam Gambhir of Stanford, a professor of radiology and nuclear medicine who did not take part in the study, told TheScientist. “It’s not known how these clusters of cells end up being the bad [guys] in terms of metastasis. This work very nicely—both through computational modeling, as well as microfluidic devices and zebrafish models—attempts to elucidate this finding.”

However, Gambhir added, the results are still based on models. “Unless you’re doing this in actual human capillaries, you still can’t prove this is what really goes on in humans,” he said.

However, Gambhir added, the results are still based on models. “Unless you’re doing this in actual human capillaries, you still can’t prove this is what really goes on in humans,” he said.

Missing from both the in vitro and zebrafish models was information on how CTC clusters behave in branching capillary beds like those seen in human capillaries, Cho noted. Cho’s team and others have previously shown that CTC clusters may also become stuck in veins, creating clots that can be fatal.

Further, developing treatments based on breaking up these clusters relies on the assumption that CTC clusters have greater metastatic potential than single CTCs, which is still up for debate.

“This study is a good first effort to help us understand how cells might transit through a simplified model of the circulatory system,” Cho wrote in an email, “but until we can model the true complexity of CTCs and CTC clusters traveling through the human circulatory system, we should be cautious not to extrapolate too much in terms of the potential therapeutic potential from the conclusions of studies like these.”

S.H. Au et al., “Clusters of circulating tumor cells traverse capillary-sized vessels,” PNAS,doi:10.1073/pnas.1524448113, 2016.

Clusters of circulating tumor cells traverse capillary-sized vessels

Sam H. Aua,bBrian D. StoreycJohn C. Moored,e,fQin Tangd,e,f, et al.    Sam H. Au,

Metastasis is responsible for 90% of cancer-related deaths and is driven by tumor cells circulating in blood. However, it is believed that only individual tumor cells can reach distant organs because multicellular clusters are too large to pass through narrow capillaries. Here, we collected evidence by examining clusters in microscale devices, computational simulations, and animals, which suggest that this assumption is incorrect, and that clusters may transit through capillaries by unfolding into single-file chains. This previously unidentified cell behavior may explain why previous experiments reported that clusters were more efficient at seeding metastases than equal numbers of single tumor cells, and has led to a strategy that, if applied clinically, may reduce the incidence of metastasis in patients.


Multicellular aggregates of circulating tumor cells (CTC clusters) are potent initiators of distant organ metastasis. However, it is currently assumed that CTC clusters are too large to pass through narrow vessels to reach these organs. Here, we present evidence that challenges this assumption through the use of microfluidic devices designed to mimic human capillary constrictions and CTC clusters obtained from patient and cancer cell origins. Over 90% of clusters containing up to 20 cells successfully traversed 5- to 10-μm constrictions even in whole blood. Clusters rapidly and reversibly reorganized into single-file chain-like geometries that substantially reduced their hydrodynamic resistances. Xenotransplantation of human CTC clusters into zebrafish showed similar reorganization and transit through capillary-sized vessels in vivo. Preliminary experiments demonstrated that clusters could be disrupted during transit using drugs that affected cellular interaction energies. These findings suggest that CTC clusters may contribute a greater role to tumor dissemination than previously believed and may point to strategies for combating CTC cluster-initiated metastasis.
Signal Loop Pulls Healthy Cells into Cancer’s Echo Chamber

In the cellular media environment, some of the most pernicious messaging occurs within tumors, which form a kind of echo chamber that amplifies molecular interactions. These interactions, which support the growth and spread of cancer, occur not only between genetically diverse cancer cells, but also between cancer cells and healthy cells.

That healthy cells should participate in such distorted discourse is disappointing but undeniable, say scientists based at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR). These scientists report that stromal cells are all too receptive to KRAS signals secreted by cancer cells. Under the influence of oncogenic KRAS, stromal cells secrete a message of their own, one that cancer cells cannot produce themselves, and the stromal cells’ messaging ends up reinforcing the cancer cells’ malignant behavior.

These findings appeared April 14 in the journal Cell, in an article entitled, “Oncogenic KRAS Regulates Tumor Cell Signaling via Stromal Reciprocation.” The article describes how the ICR researchers studied communication networks in cells from a type of pancreatic cancer called pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, one of the most deadly forms of cancer.

“By combining cell-specific proteome labeling with multivariate phosphoproteomics, we analyzed heterocellular KRASG12D signaling in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) cells,” wrote the authors of the Cell article. “Tumor cell KRASG12D engages heterotypic fibroblasts, which subsequently instigate reciprocal signaling in the tumor cells. Reciprocal signaling employs additional kinases and doubles the number of regulated signaling nodes from cell-autonomous KRASG12D.”

Normal KRAS makes occasional signals that tell a cell to divide; but when the gene is mutated, it becomes hyperactive and helps drive cancer cells’ rapid and uncontrolled growth. KRAS is mutated in more than 90% of pancreatic cancer, and in nearly 20% of all cancers.

The authors determined that, “…reciprocal KRASG12D produces a tumor cell phosphoproteome and total proteome that is distinct from cell-autonomous KRASG12D alone. Reciprocal signaling regulates tumor cell proliferation and apoptosis and increases mitochondrial capacity via an IGF1R/AXL-AKT axis.”

In other words, by monitoring reciprocal signaling, the ICR scientists discovered that healthy cells were responding with a totally new message, one propagated via IGF1R/AXL-AKT. This message doubled the capacity for KRAS to drive malignant behavior in cancer cells.

“We now know that tumors are a complex mix of genetically diverse cancer cells and multiple types of healthy cells, all communicating with each other via an intricate web of interactions,” noted Claus Jørgensen, Ph.D., the ICR scientist who led the study and is currently a junior group leader at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute. “Untangling this web, and decoding individual signals, is vital to identify which of the multitude of communications are most important for controlling tumor growth and spread.”

“We have identified a key role played by the most commonly mutated gene in cancer in communicating with healthy cells. Blocking its effects could be an effective cancer treatment.”


Oncogenic KRAS Regulates Tumor Cell Signaling via Stromal Reciprocation

Christopher J. Tape, Stephanie Ling, Maria Dimitriadi4,…., Douglas A. Lauffenburger, Claus Jørgensen
Cell Apr 2016

In Brief – Cell-specific proteome labeling reveals that oncogenic KRAS stimulates stromal cells to initiate reciprocal signaling back to pancreatic tumor cells, thereby enabling signaling capacity beyond the traditionally studied cell-autonomous pathways.


  1.  KRASG12D establishes a reciprocal signaling axis via heterotypic stromal cells
  2.  Reciprocal signaling further regulates tumor cell signaling downstream of KRASG12D
  3.  Reciprocal signaling regulates tumor cell behavior via AXL/ IGF1R-AKT
  4.  Heterocellularity expands tumor cell signaling beyond cellautonomous pathways

Figure thumbnail fx1

Oncogenic mutations regulate signaling within both tumor cells and adjacent stromal cells. Here, we show that oncogenic KRAS (KRASG12D) also regulates tumor cell signaling via stromal cells. By combining cell-specific proteome labeling with multivariate phosphoproteomics, we analyzed heterocellular KRASG12D signaling in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) cells. Tumor cell KRASG12D engages heterotypic fibroblasts, which subsequently instigate reciprocal signaling in the tumor cells. Reciprocal signaling employs additional kinases and doubles the number of regulated signaling nodes from cell-autonomous KRASG12D. Consequently, reciprocal KRASG12Dproduces a tumor cell phosphoproteome and total proteome that is distinct from cell-autonomous KRASG12D alone. Reciprocal signaling regulates tumor cell proliferation and apoptosis and increases mitochondrial capacity via an IGF1R/AXL-AKT axis. These results demonstrate that oncogene signaling should be viewed as a heterocellular process and that our existing cell-autonomous perspective underrepresents the extent of oncogene signaling in cancer.

Solid cancers are heterocellular systems containing both tumor cells and stromal cells. Coercion of stromal cells by tumor cell oncogenes profoundly impacts cancer biology (Friedl and Alexander, 2011, Quail and Joyce, 2013) and aberrant tumor-stroma signaling regulates many hallmarks of cancer (Hanahan and Weinberg, 2011). While individual oncogene-driven regulators of tumor-stroma signaling have been identified, the propagation of oncogene-dependent signals throughout a heterocellular system is poorly understood. Consequently, our perspective of oncogenic signaling is biased toward how oncogenes regulate tumor cells in isolation (Kolch et al., 2015).

In a heterocellular cancer, tumor cell oncogenes drive aberrant signaling both within tumor cells (cell-autonomous signaling) and adjacent stromal cells (non-cell-autonomous signaling) (Croce, 2008, Egeblad et al., 2010). As different cell types process signals via distinct pathways (Miller-Jensen et al., 2007), heterocellular systems (containing different cell types) theoretically provide increased signal processing capacity over homocellular systems (containing a single cell type). By extension, oncogene-dependent signaling can theoretically engage additional signaling pathways in a heterocellular system when compared to a homocellular system. However, to what extent activated stromal cells reciprocally regulate tumor cells beyond cell-autonomous signaling is not well understood.

We hypothesized that the expanded signaling capacity provided by stromal heterocellularity allows oncogenes to establish a differential reciprocal signaling state in tumor cells. To test this hypothesis, we studied oncogenic KRAS (KRASG12D) signaling in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA). KRAS is one of the most frequently activated oncogenic drivers in cancer (Pylayeva-Gupta et al., 2011) and is mutated in >90% of PDA tumor cells (Almoguera et al., 1988). PDA is an extremely heterocellular malignancy—composed of mutated tumor cells, stromal fibroblasts, endothelial cells, and immune cells (Neesse et al., 2011). Crucially, the gross stromal pancreatic stellate cell (PSC) expansion observed in the PDA microenvironment is non-cell-autonomously controlled by tumor cell KRASG12D in vivo (Collins et al., 2012, Ying et al., 2012). As a result, understanding the heterocellular signaling consequences of KRASG12D is essential to comprehend PDA tumor biology.

Comprehensive analysis of tumor-stroma signaling requires concurrent measurement of cell-specific phosphorylation events. Recent advances in proteome labeling now permit cell-specific phosphoproteome analysis in heterocellular systems (Gauthier et al., 2013, Tape et al., 2014a). Furthermore, advances in proteomic multiplexing enable deep multivariate phospho-signaling analysis (McAlister et al., 2012, Tape et al., 2014b).

Here, we combine cell-specific proteome labeling, multivariate phosphoproteomics, and inducible oncogenic mutations to describe KRASG12Dcell-autonomous, non-cell-autonomous, and reciprocal signaling across a heterocellular system. This study reveals KRASG12D uniquely regulates tumor cells via heterotypic stromal cells. By exploiting heterocellularity, reciprocal signaling enables KRASG12D to engage oncogenic signaling pathways beyond those regulated in a cell-autonomous manner. Expansion of KRASG12D signaling via stromal reciprocation suggests oncogenic communication should be viewed as a heterocellular process.


Whether oncogenes regulate tumor cell signaling via stromal cells is a fundamental question in tumor biology. Using heterocellular multivariate phosphoproteomics, we demonstrate how oncogenic KRAS signals through local non-tumor cells to achieve a differential reciprocal signaling state in the inceptive tumor cells. In PDA, this reciprocal axis supplements oncogenic cell-autonomous signaling to control protein abundance, transcription, mitochondrial activity, proliferation, apoptosis, and colony formation. Reciprocal signaling is the exclusive product of heterocellularity and cannot be achieved by tumor cells alone. These observations imply oncogenes expand their capacity to deregulate cellular signaling via stromal heterocellularity (Figure 7).

Despite the well-established heterocellularity of cancer, our understanding of oncogenic signaling within tumor cells has largely excluded non-tumor cells. We observe that stromal cells approximately double the number of tumor cell signaling nodes regulated by oncogenic KRAS, suggesting both cell-autonomous (internal) and reciprocal (external) stimuli should be considered when defining aberrant oncogenic signaling states. For example, although KRAS is thought to cell-autonomously regulate AKT in PDA (Eser et al., 2014), we show that KRASG12D activates AKT, not cell-autonomously, but reciprocally. As PI3K signaling is essential for PDA formation in vivo (Baer et al., 2014, Eser et al., 2013, Wu et al., 2014) reciprocal signaling may control oncogene-dependent tumorigenesis. Our findings suggest future genetic studies should consider the heterocellular signaling consequences of oncogene/tumor-suppressor deregulation.

The observation that many oncogene-dependent tumor cell signaling nodes require reciprocal activation has important implications for identifying pharmacological inhibitors of oncogene signaling. For example, if PDA tumor cells were screened alone, one would expect MEK, MAPK, and CDK inhibitors to perturb KRASG12D signaling. However, when screened in conjunction with heterotypic stromal cells, our study additionally identified SHH, AKT, and IGF1R/AXL inhibitors as KRASG12D-dependent targets in tumor cells. Inhibitors of signaling specific to reciprocally engaged tumor cells, such as or AKT or IGF1R/AXL, block heterocellular phenotypes (e.g., protein expression, proliferation, mitochondrial performance, and anti-apoptosis), but have little effect on KRASG12D tumor cells alone. An appreciation of reciprocal nodes increases our molecular understanding of drug targets downstream of oncogenic drivers and highlights focal points where reciprocal signals converge (e.g., AKT). These trans-cellular observations reinforce the importance of understanding cancer as a heterocellular disease.

Previous work in PDA tumor cells under homocellular conditions demonstrated cell-autonomous KRASG12D shifts metabolism toward the non-oxidative pentose phosphate pathway (Ying et al., 2012), whereas KRASG12D-ablated cells depend on mitochondrial activity (Viale et al., 2014). Here, we show that heterocellular reciprocal signaling can restore the expression of mitochondrial proteins and subsequently re-establish both mitochondrial polarity and superoxide levels. This suggests KRASG12D regulates non-oxidative flux through cell-autonomous signaling and mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation through reciprocal signaling. These results provide a unique example of context-dependent metabolic control by oncogenes and reinforce the emerging role of tumor-stroma communication in regulating cancer metabolism (Ghesquière et al., 2014).

In PDA, the stroma has dichotomous pro-tumor (Kraman et al., 2010, Sherman et al., 2014) and anti-tumor (Lee et al., 2014, Rhim et al., 2014) properties. It is becoming increasingly evident that non-cell-autonomously activated stromal cells vary within a tumor and can influence tumors in a non-obvious manner. For example, while vitamin D receptor normalization of stromal fibroblasts improves PDA therapeutic response (Sherman et al., 2014), total stromal ablation increases malignant behavior (Lee et al., 2014, Rhim et al., 2014). Thus, while stromal purging is unlikely to provide therapeutic benefit in PDA, “stromal reprogramming” toward an anti-tumor stroma is now desirable (Brock et al., 2015). Although we describe a largely pro-tumor reciprocal axis, both pro- and anti-tumor stromal phenotypes likely transduce across reciprocal signaling networks. Our work suggests future efforts to therapeutically reprogram the PDA stroma toward anti-tumor phenotypes will require an understanding of reciprocal signaling. In describing the first oncogenic reciprocal axis, this study provides a foundation to measure the cell-cell communication required for anti-tumor stromal reprogramming.

We demonstrate heterocellular multivariate phosphoproteomics can be used to observe reciprocal signaling in vitro. Unfortunately, cell-specific isotopic phosphoproteomics is not currently possible in vivo. To delineate reciprocal signaling in vivo, experimental systems must support manipulation of multiple cell-specific variables and provide cell-specific signaling readouts. Simple pharmacological perturbation of reciprocal nodes (e.g., IGF1R, AXL, AKT, etc.) in existing PDA GEMMs will in principle affect all cell types (e.g., tumor cells, PSCs, immune cells) and cannot provide axis-specific information in vivo. Future in vivo studies of reciprocal signaling will require parallel inducible genetic manipulation (e.g., oncogene activation in cancer cell and/or inhibition of reciprocal node in stromal cell), combined with cell-specific signaling data (e.g., using epithelial tissue mass-cytometry) (Simmons et al., 2015).

We describe KRASG12D reciprocal signaling between PDA tumor cells and PSCs. However, it is likely oncogenic reciprocal signaling occurs across multiple different cell types in the tumor microenvironment. For example, in PDA, FAP+stromal fibroblasts secrete SDF1 that binds tumor cells to suppress T cells (Feig et al., 2013). Our model predicts oncogene signaling expands across several cell types in the tumor microenvironment—including immune cells. Moreover, as oncogenes non-cell-autonomously regulate the stroma in many other tumor types (Croce, 2008), our model predicts oncogenic reciprocal signaling to be a broad phenomenon across all heterocellular cancers. The presented heterocellular multivariate phosphoproteomic workflow now enables future characterization of oncogenic reciprocal signaling in alternative cancer types.

As differentiated cells process signals in unique ways, heterocellularity provides increased signal processing space over homocellularity. We provide evidence that KRASG12D exploits heterocellularity via reciprocal signaling to expand tumor cell signaling space beyond cell-autonomous pathways. Given the frequent heterocellularity of solid tumors, we suspect reciprocal signaling to be a common—albeit under-studied—axis in oncogene-dependent signal transduction.

New Genomic Analysis of Immune Cell Infiltration in Colorectal Cancer

Through whole-exome sequencing of colorectal tumors, researchers were able to identify additional driver genes that correlate high neoantigen load with increased lymphocytic infiltration and improved survival. [Giannakis et al., 2016, Cell Reports 15, 1–9]

The past several years have seen some exciting results for cancer immunotherapy. However, there remains a fundamental lack of understanding of immune system recognition in various cancers. Many large-scale sequencing efforts have added to our collective knowledge base, but too many of these studies have been deficient in comprehensive epidemiological and demographic information.

Now, researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard report on their findings from a new study, which found that colorectal cancers festooned with tumor-related proteins called neoantigens were likely to be saturated with disease-fighting white blood cells, mainly lymphocytes.

Using several data sets from patients in two large health-tracking studies, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, investigators performed whole-exome sequencing on colorectal tumor samples from 619 patients—itemizing each DNA base that specifies how cell proteins are to be constructed. This information was merged with data from tests of the immune system’s response to the tumors and with patient clinical data, including length of survival.

“We were looking for genetic features that predict how extensively a tumor is infiltrated by lymphocytes and which types of lymphocytes are present,” explained co-lead study author, Marios Giannakis, M.D., Ph.D., medical oncologist and clinical investigator at the Dana-Farber Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Center, and researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. “We found that tumors with a high ‘neoantigen load’—which carry large quantities of neoantigens—tended to be infiltrated by a large number of lymphocytes, including memory T cells, which provide protection against previously encountered infections and diseases. Patients whose tumors had high numbers of neoantigens also survived longer than those with lower neoantigen loads.”

The findings from this study were published recently in Cell Reports in an article entitled “Genomic Correlates of Immune-Cell Infiltrates in Colorectal Carcinoma.”

Neoantigens are mutated forms of protein antigens, which are found on normal cells. Genetic mutations often cause cancer cells to produce abnormal proteins, some of which get trafficked to the cell surface, where they serve as a red flag to the immune system that something has gone awry with the cell.

“There can be hundreds or thousands of neoantigens on tumor cells,” noted Dr. Giannakis explained. “Only a few of these may actually provoke T cells to infiltrate a tumor. However, the more neoantigens on display, the greater the chance that some of them will spark an immune system response.”

Physicians often take advantage of therapies known as immune checkpoint inhibitors, which work by removing some of the barriers to an immune system attack on cancer. Although these agents have produced astonishing results in some cases, they’re effective only in patients whose immune system has already launched an immune response to cancer. This new study may help investigators identify which patients are most likely to benefit in new clinical trials of immune checkpoint inhibitors by showing that tumors with high antigen loads are apt to be laced with T cells—and therefore able to provoke an immune response.

Interestingly, this new analysis found several often-mutated genes that had not previously been strongly associated with the disease, including BCL9L, RBM10, CTCF, and KLF5, suggesting that they may be valuable targets for new therapies.

“Our study helps shed light on the overall development of colorectal cancer,” Dr. Giannakis remarked. “It also shows the insights that can be gained by integrating molecular research with findings from other areas such as epidemiology and immunology.”

“Genomic Correlates of Immune-Cell Infiltrates in Colorectal Carcinoma”


Neo-antigens predicted by tumor genome meta-analysis correlate with increased patient survival
Scott D. Brown,1,2 Rene L. Warren,1 Ewan A. Gibb,1,3 Spencer D. Martin,1,3,4 John J. Spinelli,5,6 Brad H. Nelson,3,4,7 and Robert A. Holt1,3,8,9
Genome Res. 2014 May; 24(5): 743–750.    doi:  10.1101/gr.165985.113

Somatic missense mutations can initiate tumorogenesis and, conversely, anti-tumor cytotoxic T cell (CTL) responses. Tumor genome analysis has revealed extreme heterogeneity among tumor missense mutation profiles, but their relevance to tumor immunology and patient outcomes has awaited comprehensive evaluation. Here, for 515 patients from six tumor sites, we used RNA-seq data from The Cancer Genome Atlas to identify mutations that are predicted to be immunogenic in that they yielded mutational epitopes presented by the MHC proteins encoded by each patient’s autologous HLA-A alleles. Mutational epitopes were associated with increased patient survival. Moreover, the corresponding tumors had higher CTL content, inferred from CD8A gene expression, and elevated expression of the CTL exhaustion markers PDCD1 and CTLA4. Mutational epitopes were very scarce in tumors without evidence of CTL infiltration. These findings suggest that the abundance of predicted immunogenic mutations may be useful for identifying patients likely to benefit from checkpoint blockade and related immunotherapies.

The accumulation of somatic mutations underlies the initiation and progression of most cancers by conferring upon tumor cells unrestricted proliferative capacity (Hanahan and Weinberg 2011). The analysis of cancer genomes has revealed that tumor mutational landscapes (Vogelstein et al. 2013) are extremely variable among patients, among different tumors from the same patient, and even among the different regions of a single tumor (Gerlinger et al. 2012). There is a need for personalized strategies for cancer therapy that are compatible with mutational heterogeneity, and in this regard, immune interventions that aim to initiate or enhance anti-tumor immune responses hold much promise. Therapeutic antibodies and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) technologies have shown anti-cancer efficacy (Fox et al. 2011), but such antibody-based approaches are limited to cell surface target antigens (Slamon et al. 2001; Coiffier et al. 2002; Yang et al. 2003;Cunningham et al. 2004; Kalos et al. 2011). In contrast, most tumor mutations are point mutations in genes encoding intracellular proteins. Short peptide fragments of these proteins, after intracellular processing and presentation at the cell surface as MHC ligands, can elicit T cell immunoreactivity. Further, the presence of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL), in particular, CD8+ T cells, has been associated with increased survival (Sato et al. 2005; Nelson 2008; Oble et al. 2009; Yamada et al. 2010; Gooden et al. 2011; Hwang et al. 2012), suggesting that the adaptive immune system can mount protective anti-tumor responses in many cancer patients (Kim et al. 2007; Fox et al. 2011). The antigen specificities of tumor-infiltrating T cells remain almost completely undefined (Andersen et al. 2012), but there are numerous examples of cytotoxic T cells recognizing single amino acid coding changes originating from somatic tumor mutations (Lennerz et al. 2005;Matsushita et al. 2012; Heemskerk et al. 2013; Lu et al. 2013; Robbins et al. 2013;van Rooij et al. 2013; Wick et al. 2014). Thus, the notion that tumor mutations are reservoirs of exploitable neo-antigens remains compelling (Heemskerk et al. 2013). For a mutation to be recognized by CD8+ T cells, the mutant peptide must be presented by MHC I molecules on the surface of the tumor cell. The ability of a peptide to bind a given MHC I molecule with sufficient affinity for the peptide-MHC complex to be stabilized at the cell surface is the single most limiting step in antigen presentation and T cell activation (Yewdell and Bennink 1999). Recently, several algorithms have been developed that can predict which peptides will bind to given MHC molecules (Nielsen et al. 2003; Bui et al. 2005; Peters and Sette 2005; Vita et al. 2010; Lundegaard et al. 2011), thereby providing guidance into which mutations are immunogenic.

The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) ( is an initiative of the National Institutes of Health that has created a comprehensive catalog of somatic tumor mutations identified using deep sequencing. As a member of The Cancer Genome Atlas Research Network, our center has generated extensive tumor RNA-seq data. Here, we have used public TCGA RNA-seq data to explore the T cell immunoreactivity of somatic missense mutations across six tumor sites. This type of analysis is challenged not only by large numbers of mutations unique to individual patients, but also by the complexity of personalized antigen presentation by MHC arising from the extreme HLA allelic diversity in the outbred human population. Previous studies have explored the potential immunogenicity of tumor mutations (Segal et al. 2008; Warren and Holt 2010; Khalili et al. 2012), but these have been hampered by small sample size and the inability to specify autologous HLA restriction. Recently, we described a method of HLA calling from RNA-seq data that shows high sensitivity and specificity (Warren et al. 2012). Here, we have obtained matched tumor mutational profiles and HLA-A genotypes from TCGA subjects and used these data to predict patient-specific mutational epitope profiles. The evaluation of these data together with RNA-seq-derived markers of T cell infiltration and overall patient survival provides the first comprehensive view of the landscape of potentially immunogenic mutations in solid tumors.    …..

The results of the present study have clinical implications. We have shown that patients with tumors bearing missense mutations predicted to be immunogenic have a survival advantage (Fig. 3D). These tumors also show evidence of higher CD8+ TIL, which suggests that a number of these mutations might be immunoreactive. The existence of these mutations is encouraging because, in principle, they could be leveraged by personalized therapeutic vaccination strategies or adoptive transfer protocols to enhance anti-tumor immunoreactivity. Likewise, patients with tumors showing naturally immunogenic mutations and associated TIL are potential candidates for treatment with immune modulators such as CTLA4- or PDCD1-targeted antibodies. There is evidence that such therapies are most effective against tumors infiltrated by T cells (Moschos et al. 2006; Hamid et al. 2009). Our results indicate that tumors bearing predicted immunogenic mutations have not only elevated CD8A expression (Fig. 3C) but also elevated expression of CTLA4 and PDCD1 (Fig. 4), reinforcing the notion that these patients may be optimal candidates for immune modulation. Importantly, we observed that tumors with low levels of CD8+ TIL invariably have far fewer immunogenic mutations. Such patients would be better suited to conventional therapy or to immunotherapies (e.g., chimeric antigen receptor modified T cells) that target nonmutated antigens.

  1. 12, 2011 Keywords: tumor immune infiltrate, T-cells, cancer prognosis, colon … By conducting genomic and in situ immunostaining on resected tumors from ….. of tumor-infiltrating immune cells correlates with better overall survival.

  2. 27, 2011 Keywords: Colorectal cancer, Immune response, T lymphocytes, Microsatellite instability … In CRC, at least 3 distinct pathways of genomic instability have been …. The potential influence of these immunecell infiltrates in CRC on the … in controlling cytolytic activity of CD8+ T cells, inversely correlates to the …   


Cancer-Associated Immune Resistance and Evasion of Immune Surveillance in Colorectal Cancer

Gastroenterology Research and Practice
Volume 2016 (2016), Article ID 6261721, 8 pages

Data from molecular profiles of tumors and tumor associated cells provide a model in which cancer cells can acquire the capability of avoiding immune surveillance by expressing an immune-like phenotype. Recent works reveal that expression of immune antigens (PDL1, CD47, CD73, CD14, CD68, MAC387, CD163, DAP12, and CD15) by tumor cells “immune resistance,” combined with prometastatic function of nonmalignant infiltrating cells, may represent a strategy to overcome the rate-limiting steps of metastatic cascade through (a) enhanced interactions with protumorigenic myeloid cells and escape from T-dependent immune response mediated by CD8+ and natural killer (NK) cells; (b) production of immune mediators that establish a local and systemic tumor-supportive environment (premetastatic niche); (c) ability to survive either in the peripheral blood as circulating tumor cells (CTCs) or at the metastatic site forming a cooperative prometastatic loop with foreign “myeloid” cells, macrophages, and neutrophils, respectively. The development of cancer-specific “immune resistance” can be orchestrated either by cooperation with tumor microenvironment or by successive rounds of genetic/epigenetic changes. Recognition of the applicability of this model may provide effective therapeutic avenues for complete elimination of immune-resistant metastatic cells and for enhanced antitumor immunity as part of a combinatorial strategy.

1. Introduction

Metastasis remains the most significant cause of cancer-associated morbidity and mortality and specific targeting molecules have had limited success in reversing metastatic progression in the clinical setting [13]. Understanding the exact molecular and cellular basis of the events that facilitate cancer metastasis has been difficult so far. Over the past years, a well-accepted theory suggests that genomic alterations of the malignant cells accompanied by the so-called tumor microenvironment “nonmalignant cells” contribute to the metastatic cascade [4, 5]. As such, metastasis is frequently described as the sequential execution of multiple steps. To establish the metastatic tumor, cancer cells have to acquire the traits that enable them to efficiently cooperate with the host stroma and simultaneously avoid antitumor immune response [49]. At early stage of carcinogenesis, tumors appear to be vulnerable because mutant and thus potentially immunogenic tumor cells are being exposed to the immune system, which can recognize them and restrict their growth [10, 11]. This is the case of tumor-infiltrating immune cells particularly CD8+ T cells and NK cells which have the potential to restrict the tumor outgrowth or reject metastatic tumor cells [12, 13]. According to this notion, in most primary tumors, a strong Th1/cytotoxic T cells infiltration correlates with a longer patient’s survival [1214]. Unfortunately, tumor develops multiple mechanisms of evading immune responses, by forming a compromised microenvironment that allows the dissemination of malignant cells in a foreign microenvironment through molecular mechanisms still poorly characterized. A variety of stromal cells, particularly M2-phenotype macrophages and myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs), are recruited to primary tumors; these not only enhance growth of the primary cancer but also facilitate its metastatic dissemination to distant organs [13, 14]. Notably, cooperative “dialogue” between malignant cells and their microenvironment will go on in the systemic circulation and subsequently in the future metastatic site [1317]. In fact, recent studies have demonstrated that a high systemic inflammatory response, that is, blood neutrophil-lymphocyte ratio (NLR), predicts lower overall survival, higher tumor stage, and a greater incidence of metastasis in multiple tumor types [18, 19]. Therefore, a substantial amount of data suggests a novel dimension of the tumor biology and offers the opportunity to revisit the mechanisms describing evasion of cancer immunosurveillance during the metastatic process. The present review analyses recent studies that elucidate and reinforce the theory by which immune-phenotypic features or “immune resistance” by cancer cells may need to sustain the metastatic cascade and avoid antitumor immune response.

2. Tumor Antigens and Antitumor Immune Response by Effectors of Adaptive Immunity

A decade of studies has emphasized the nature of cancer as a systemic disease remarking a key role of host microenvironment as a critical hallmark. As a result, a new picture of cancer is emerging in particular due to unexpected cross-talk between malignant cells and the immune system [35]. Recent data have expanded the mechanisms of cancer-immune system interactions revealing that every known innate and adaptive immune effector component participates in tumor recognition and control [9, 10]. It is now recognized that in different individuals and with different cancers, at early stage of tumorigenesis, the few cancer cells are detected by NK cells through their encounter with specific ligands on tumor cells [5]. In turn, activation of macrophages and dendritic cells and particularly T and B cells expands production of additional cytokines and further promotes activation of tumor-specific T cells “CD8+ cytotoxic T cells” leading to the generation of immune memory to specific tumor components [1416]. However, in cases where the immune system is not able to eliminate the cancer, a state of equilibrium develops or eventually cancer cells can resist, avoid, or suppress the antitumor immune response, leading to the immune escape and a fully developed tumor (Figure 1) [915]. For example, investigations into the nature of cancer as a genetic disease have suggested two paradigmatic subtypes of colorectal cancer (CRC): chromosomal instability (CIN) and microsatellite instability (MSI), in which the expression of immune-checkpoint proteins can be differentially dysregulated to unleash the potential of the antitumor immune response [11]. In particular, tumors with mismatch-repair deficiency (dMMR) (10–20%) of advanced colorectal cancer tend to have 10 to 100 times more somatic mutations and higher amount of lymphocyte infiltrates than mismatch-repair-proficient colorectal cancers (pMMR), a finding consistent with a stronger antitumor immune response (Figure 1) [11, 20]. According to this notion, recent studies suggest that certain cancer subtypes dMMR CRC with high numbers of somatic mutations are more responsive to PD-1 blockade, a well-known immune-checkpoint inhibitor [20]. In particular, CD8-positive lymphoid infiltrate and membranous PDL1 expression on either tumor cells or tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes at the invasive fronts of the tumor are associated with an improved response to anti-PD-1 therapy in patients with mismatch-repair-deficient cancer [11, 20]. In addition, cancer subtypes with stronger antitumor immune responses (immunogenic) are characterized by surface-exposed calreticulin or heat shock protein 90 (HSP90), which serve as a powerful mobilizing signal to the immune system in the context of damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs) [17]. As danger signals, DAMPs accompanied by subversion MHC Class I and II antigens on the plasma membrane of cancer cells appear to be characteristic of stressed or injured cells and can act as adjuvant signals to enhance antitumor immunity mediated by the innate immune system [17]. As described in this review, unfortunately, the large majority of human tumors can suppress the immune system to enhance their survival, rendering them invisible to cytotoxic T lymphocytes through a variety of mechanisms. Furthermore, in most cases, tumor-infiltrating immune cells differentiate into cells that promote each step of the tumor progression supporting ability of cancer cells to invade and survive in foreign organs. In addition, the intricate network of malignant and immune components represents a prominent obstacle to the effects of therapeutic agents.


High-resolution genomic analysis: the tumor-immune interface comes into focus

Jonathan J Havel1 and Timothy A Chan1,2*
Havel and Chan     Genome Biology (2015) 16:65

A genomic analysis of heterogeneous colorectal tumor samples has uncovered interactions between immunophenotype and various aspects of tumor biology, with implications for informing the choice of immunotherapies for specific patients and guiding the design of personalized neoantigen-based vaccines.

Please see related article:

Immunotherapy is a promising new approach for treating human malignancies. Approximately 20% of melanoma and lung cancer patients receiving immune checkpoint inhibitors show responses [1,2]. Current major challenges include identification of patients most likely to respond to specific therapies and elucidation of novel targets to treat those who do not. To address these problems, a detailed understanding of the dynamic interactions between tumors and the immune system is required. In a new study, Zlatko Trajanoski and colleagues [3] describe a powerful approach to dissecting these issues through high-resolution analysis of patient genomic data. This study represents a significant advance over previous work from this group, which defined 28 immune-cell-type gene expression signatures and identified specific cell types as prognostic indicators in colorectal cancer (CRC) patients [4]. Here, the authors [3] integrate genomic analyses of CRC tumor molecular phenotypes, predicted antigenicity (called the ‘antigenome’), and immune-cell infiltration derived from multiple independent cohorts to gain refined insights into tumor-immune system interactions.

Not all tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes are created equal

Past studies have used immune-staining techniques to determine associations between a limited set of infiltrating immune cells and patient survival [5] or tumor molecular phenotype [6]. Here, the authors [3] use gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) of immune cell expression signatures to ascertain associations of 28 immune-cell populations with patient survival and tumor molecular phenotypes. Effector memory CD8+ and CD4+ T cells, natural killer cells, and activated dendritic cells are significantly associated with improved overall survival. Interestingly, although the authors’ previous work found no significant prognostic value of regulatory T cells (Tregs) or myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) [4], negative associations of these cell types with overall survival are among the strongest relationships observed in the current study. It is possible that variations in sample collection and preparation may have contributed to this discrepancy. The conclusions, supported by the numerous animal studies demonstrating the importance of cell-mediated immunosuppression, are substantially strengthened by a much larger cohort size used in this study.

Another important observation is the association of specific immune cell subsets with CRC tumor stage and molecular phenotypes as classified by mutation rate, microsatellite instability, and methylation status. This knowledge will be crucial in determining which types of immunotherapy are most likely to benefit individual patients. Interestingly, although hypermutated microsatellite-unstable tumors show strong enrichment of adaptive immune cells, similar enrichment is notably lacking in the small population of hypermutated microsatellite-stable tumors. This raises an intriguing question of whether and how microsatellite instability/mismatch repair may independently shape immune responses. Furthermore, Trajanoski and colleagues [3] find that tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes transition from an adaptive to an innate immunophenotype with increasing tumor stage. This raises an interesting issue of whether immunotherapies that depend on the adaptive immune response can be effective in later stage CRC tumors.

Diversity of tumor antigens

In addition to characterizing immune components involved in tumor immune responses, it is equally important to identify and understand the tumor-associated antigens that elicit these responses, called the ‘antigenome’. The authors [3] analyze RNA-seq and genomic data to identify two types of tumor antigens in CRC – non-mutated cancer germline antigens that are aberrantly overexpressed, and neoantigens, which are generated from non-synonymous somatic mutations. Importantly, the authors [3] find that cancer-germline antigens are highly shared among patients and are independent of molecular and immune phenotype. In contrast, neoantigens are enriched in the hypermutated microsatellite-unstable phenotype tumors and rarely shared among patients. These results imply a heightened importance of neoantigens in comparison to cancer-germline antigens [7]. In addition, similar analytical methods have recently been applied to identify functional neoantigens in human melanoma and cholangiocarcinoma [810]. An emerging theme of these studies is that the in vitro validation rate for predicted neoantigens is relatively low; however, it is unclear whether this is due to limited sensitivity of functional assays or epigenetic silencing to circumvent immunoediting, or whether the number of immunogenic neoantigens is in fact small. Interestingly, Trajanoski and colleagues [3] find a modest yet significant decrease in neoantigen frequency with increasing tumor stage. Considering the concomitant decrease in adaptive immune cell infiltration, it is tempting to speculate that this phenomenon reflects immunoediting of critical neoepitopes during tumor progression. Furthermore, the authors find an association, albeit not statistically significant, between increased neoantigen burden and improved patient survival. This finding complements a recent report [9] showing that whereas neoantigen burden roughly predicts survival of anti-CTLA-4-treated melanoma patients, a collection of consensus neoepitope motifs is strongly associated with patient survival. It will be interesting to see if future studies can determine the effect of CRC neoantigen burden in the setting of immunotherapy, and answer the questions of whether an analogous signature of prognostic neoepitope motifs exists for CRC, and whether there are any similarities between substring signatures of different tumor types.


Not Your Average Circulating Tumor Cells   

Translational Scientists Profile Cancer Cells That Have Gone on the Lam

GEN Apr 15, 2016 (Vol. 36, No. 8)


  • For most malignant tumors, morbidity and mortality are, to a great extent, the result of metastatic dissemination, as opposed to the presence of the primary tumor.

    The existence of circulating tumor cells, which can be shed into the circulation by primary or metastatic malignancies, was first recognized almost 150 years ago, and their diagnostic and therapeutic values have been increasingly appreciated during the last few decades.

    One of the unique characteristics of circulating tumor cells is that they are in a fundamentally different environment from that established in either the primary tumor or the metastatic one. Although circulating tumor cells can be kept in place so that they can be assessed, the usual technique—immobilization to a solid surface—tends to yield distorted results. Free-floating cells are molecularly and functionally distinct from immobilized cells. For example, nonadhering breast cancer cells were shown to have tubulin-based microtentacles that shape their dynamic behavior, including their aggregation, retention in organs, or interaction with the endothelium.

    “These microtentacles are very hard to study because they depolymerize when cells bind either an endothelial cell or another tumor cell,” says Christopher M. Jewell, Ph.D., assistant professor of bioengineering  at the University of Maryland College Park. “Cells that form microtumors undergo massive mechanochemical and phenotypic changes as compared to when they are floating or circulating.”

    Characterizing circulating tumor cells, then, seems to amount to capturing the substance of freedom, a task that sounds self-defeatingly paradoxical—or at least fraught with difficulties. Overcoming difficulties, however, would likely be worth the effort. Two areas that immediately benefit from the characterization of circulating tumor cells are diagnostics and therapeutics.

    Capturing and analyzing circulating tumor cells opens not only the possibility of diagnosing patients earlier and more accurately, but also the potential for identifying new approaches to targeting malignancies. “Many groups are working on important technologies to capture circulating tumor cells,” informs Dr. Jewell. “We’re working on new technologies to analyze these populations.”

  • Floating in Place

    To address the existing gap in characterizing the biology of free-floating cancer cells, Dr. Jewell and collaborators in the University of Maryland laboratory of physiologist Stuart Martin, Ph.D., have designed an unusual  microfluidic device. It can spatially immobilize free-floating tumor cells while maintaining their free-floating characteristics.

    In this microfluidic device, polyelectrolyte multilayers inhibit the attachment of cells to multiwall plates, allowing their free-floating functional and morphological characteristics to be visualized and studied. Lipid tethers incorporated into the device interact with the cell membrane and allow cells to remain loosely attached and spatially localized, offering the possibility to perform applications such as real-time imaging and drug screening.

    “We are trying to understand what the signaling changes are in individual circulating tumors cells that are not nucleating into a tumor,” explains Dr. Jewell, “as compared to cells that contact enough cells and nucleate to form a tumor.”

    Surface tethering of circulating tumor cells also provides the opportunity to capture arrays of tumor cells; to introduce a perturbation such as a drug or a change in flow rate or mechanical properties; and then to collect the same individual cells that had already been imaged. In these cells, morphological changes can be correlated with genomic or proteomic information, providing an opportunity to dynamically understand how the mechanochemical properties of the cells change in response to external perturbations.

    “Our collaborators,” notes Dr. Jewell, “are also developing algorithms to quantify some of the features of microtentacles and convert visual information into quantitative metrics.”

  • Filterless Filters

    At the University of California, Los Angeles, Dino Di Carlo, Ph.D., and colleagues have developed High-Throughput Vortex Chip (Vortex-HT) technology, which uses parallel microfluidic vortex chambers to accumulate the larger circulating tumor cells from flowing blood. Vortex-HT reportedly generates less contamination with white blood cells than other technologies and isolates cells in a smaller output volume.

    Early techniques to capture circulating tumor cells have taken advantage of cell size differences, leading to the development of filtration-based approaches. This was followed, more recently, by the emergence of inertial microfluidic-based approaches, of which vortex technology is one example.

    “We think of vortex technology as a filterless filter,” says Dino Di Carlo, Ph.D., professor of bioengineering and director of the Cancer Nanotechnology Program at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of California, Los Angeles. “There aren’t any structures that are smaller than the cell types, but cells are still isolated based on size.”

    Dr. Di Carlo and colleagues recently developed the High-Throughput Vortex Chip (Vortex HT), an improved microfluidic technology that allows the label-free, size-based enrichment and concentration of rare cells. The strategy involves minimal pretreatment steps, reducing cell damage, and allows an approximately 8 mL vial of blood to be processed within 15–20 minutes.

    “With this approach,” asserts Dr. Di Carlo, “we can concentrate cells from any volume to about 100 µL.”

    Circulating tumor cells can then be used for subsequent steps, such as real-time imaging or immunostaining. The capture efficiency, up to 83%, is slightly lower than with Dean flow fractionation and CTC-iChip, but Vortex HT generates much less contamination with white blood cells than other technologies and isolates cells in a smaller output volume.

    Along with circulating tumor cells, another promising noninvasive biomarker is provided by circulating tumor DNA. Such DNA can be detected in the plasma or serum of many cancer patients as a result of the active or passive release of nucleic acid from apoptotic or necrotic tumor cells.

    While circulating tumor DNA can be used to dynamically collect information about specific mutations, and provides advantages for some applications, it is not powered to offer certain types of information that can be captured only from circulating tumor cells. For example, it cannot provide details about cellular morphology or protein expression and localization. Also, it cannot enable investigators to perform proteomic profiling in parallel with genomic profiling.

    These are not the only situations in which circulating DNA serves as a poor substitute for circulating tumor cells. “Another example,” notes Dr. Di Carlo, occurs with “applications that involve a drug screen that seeks to determine whether cells are sensitive or resistant to a particular compound.” Additionally, for certain cancers that have no dominant mutations, or for which mutations are not well known, circulating tumor DNA cannot provide the information that can be interrogated from profiling circulating tumor cells.

    • Insights beyond Counting

      “The field started off by enumerating circulating tumor cells as a potential biomarker,” says David T. Miyamoto, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). “It is currently moving toward performing detailed molecular analyses of these circulating tumor cells and using them as a form of liquid biopsy that allows us to gain insights into the molecular biology of the tumor itself.”

      The Circulating Tumor Cell Center at MGH, led by Daniel Haber, M.D., Ph.D., and Mehmet Toner, Ph.D., has developed three generations of microfluidic technology. The technology of the first two generations captured circulating tumor cells on microfluidic surfaces. The technology of the third generation, known as CTC-iChip technology, introduces the unique capability—isolating cells in solution. Once the circulating tumor cells are captured or isolated, notes Dr. Miyamoto, they can be subjected to “a variety of sophisticated molecular analyses.”

      In a recent study using the CTC-iChip technology, Dr. Miyamoto and colleagues performed single-cell RNA sequencing. The investigators used 77 circulating tumor cells isolated by microfluidic enrichment from 13 patients.

      “The goal of this work was to use the circulating tumor cell technology to identify potential resistance mechanisms in metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer,” explains Dr. Miyamoto. In patients who were undergoing therapy with an androgen receptor inhibitor, the retrospective analysis of their circulating tumor cells revealed that the noncanonical Wnt signaling pathway may play a role in resistance to therapy.

      “We need to validate the findings in larger patient cohorts,” concludes Dr. Miyamoto. “But this proof-of-concept study shows that detailed molecular analyses of liquid biopsy samples can be used to identify potentially clinically relevant mechanisms of resistance that can then be exploited to guide patient care.”

    • Variable to the Last

      Morphotek, a biopharmaceutical company that specializes in the development of protein and antibody products through the use of gene-evolution technology, has developed the ApoStream device, which uses continuous field-flow-assist and dielectrophoresis technology to isolate and recover circulating tumor cells from the blood of cancer patients. In a recent study in Biomarker Insights, Morphotek scientists described how they interrogated ApoStream-isolated circulating tumor cells by employing laser-scanning cytometry using highly selective antibodies. The scientists detected folate receptor alpha (FRα) expression in CK+/CD45 cells isolated from lung cancer, as indicated in these representative images.

      “Most of the work on circulating tumor cells has been done in late-stage cancers to direct therapeutic interventions,” says Daniel J. O’Shannessy, Ph.D., head of translational medicine and diagnostics at Morphotek. “Even in late-stage cancers, there is a great deal of variability with respect to the numbers of cells shed for a cancer type but especially between cancer types.”

      Many studies correlated the presence of circulating tumor cells with prognosis in several cancers, including breast, lung, and colorectal malignancies. However, one of the challenges associated with analyzing circulating tumor cells is that not every cancer releases them into the circulation. Also, even among cancers that do, not every cancer generates a lot of these cells.

      For example, as estimated using current techniques, ovarian cancers do not appear to shed as many circulating tumor cells as several other malignancies. “Another challenge is that existing technologies are often limited by sensitivity much more than by specificity,” cautions Dr. O’Shannessy. This limitation has the potential to make interpatient comparisons, and even the longitudinal follow-up of patients, particularly difficult.

      Previously, investigators at Morphotek described ApoStream®, a device that uses continuous field-flow-assist and dielectrophoresis technology to isolate and recover circulating tumor cells from the blood of cancer patients. In a recent study, Dr. O’Shannessy and colleagues used laser-scanning cytometry and highly selective antibodies to identify folate receptor alpha-positive cells from circulating tumor cells that had been isolated using the ApoStream technology.

      This proof-of-principle study was able to detect folate receptor alpha-positive cells in patients with breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and non-small cell lung adenocarcinoma, but not in patients with squamous cell lung cancer. These findings supporting previous findings that were made using the respective primary or metastatic tumors.

      The study demonstrated the utility of following the enrichment and identification of circulating tumor cells with immunofluorescence staining for a specific tumor marker. This combination of approaches emerges as a valuable noninvasive strategy for differentiating among tumor types. It can also be used to examine heterogeneous cell populations within tumors, particularly when tissue samples are not available.

    • Outliers among Outliers

      “We know that circulating tumor cells are present in cancer patients, but we have a limited understanding of the prognostic significance of their presence, or how to identify the ones that have more metastatic potential,” says Shana O. Kelley, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry at the University of Toronto. “These are questions we are trying to address to obtain functional information.”

      Recently, Dr. Kelley and colleagues described a new molecular approach based on a fluidic chip that captures circulating tumor cells using two-dimensional sorting. At a first stage, DNA aptamers specific to cell-surface markers bound to magnetic nanoparticles are used to capture circulating tumor cells. Subsequently, at a second stage, the corresponding antisense oligonucleotides are used to release the cells, enabling two-dimensional cell sorting.

      In a proof-of-concept experiment, Dr. Kelley and colleagues illustrated the strength of this approach in isolating cellular subpopulations that exhibit different phenotypes. Also, the investigators validated their results using an invasion assay.

      “Progress in working on the biology of circulating tumor cells motivates us to make devices to collect information about markers much more readily,” declares Dr. Kelley. “We hope this will provide information about outcomes and prognosis.”



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Ebola therapy breakthrough

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Updated 11/23/2015

Giant Molecules Inhibit Ebola Infection

Nov 11, 2015

European researchers have designed a “giant” molecule formed by thirteen fullerenes covered by carbohydrates which, by blocking this receptor, are able to inhibit the cell infection by an artificial ebola virus model.


Different studies have demonstrated that the ebola virus infection process starts when the virus reaches the cellular DC-SIGN receptor to infect the dendritic cells (of the immune system).

In this study researchers from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid/IMDEA-Nanociencia, the Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria Hospital 12 de Octubre (Madrid), and the Instituto de Investigaciones Químicas del CSIC-Universidad de Sevilla have collaborated, together with three european research groups (CNRS/Université de Strasbourg, France and Université de Namur, Belgium).

“Fullerenes are hollow cages exclusively formed by carbon atoms”, explains Nazario Martín, Professor of Organic Chemistry in the UCM and main author of the study. In this work, scientists have employed C60 fullerene, which is formed by 60 carbon atoms and has the shape of a truncated icosahedron, which resembles a football ball.


These molecules decorated with specific carbohydrates (sugars) present affinity by the receptor used as an entry point to infect the cell and act blocking it, thus inhibiting the infection.

Researchers employed an artificial ebola virus by expressing one of its proteins, envelope protein GP1, responsible of its entry in the cells. In a model in vitro, this protein is covering a false virus, which is able of cell infection but not of replication.

“We have employed a cell model previously described in our lab which consists in a cell line of human lymphocytes expressing DC-SIGN receptor, which facilitates the entry of the virus in Dendritic Cells”, points out Rafael Delgado, researcher of the Hospital 12 de Octubre, and other of the authors of the study.

By blocking this receptor and inhibiting the virus infection, the authors think that the dissemination of the virus would decrease and the immune response increase, but this idea has still to be developed with in vivo studies.

The biggest fullerene system in the lab

The system designed by the chemists, based on carbon nanostructures developed in the UCM, mimic the presentation of carbohydrates surrounding virus like ebola or VIH.

The team has achieved an unprecedented success in fullerene chemistry and dendritic growth: connecting in one synthetic step twelve fullerene units, each with ten sugars, to other central fullerene, creating a globular superstructure with 120 sugar moieties on its surface, “this is the fastest dendrimeric growth developed in a laboratory up to now” says Beatriz Illescas, Professor in the UCM and coauthor of the work.

According to scientists, the results highlight the potential of these giant molecules as antiviral agents. “This work open the door to the design and preparation of new systems to inhibit the pathogens infection in cases where the current therapies are not effective or are inexistent, as occurs with the ebola virus”, clarifies Martín.

After these experiments on the cellular level, researchers will study the behavior of these systems in animal models, starting with mice. “We will study, on the one hand, the pharmacokinetics and, on the other, the antiviral activity in vivo” explains Javier Rojo, researcher of the Instituto de Investigaciones Químicas del CSIC and other of the authors of the study. Once the most effective compound has been identified, studies using the true ebola virus could be carried out.

DCSIGN, which is abundantly expressed by DC both in vitro and in vivo, … Whereas ICAM-3 binding by monocytes is for the greater part LFA-1 … The specificity of this adhesion receptor on DC for ICAM-3 is demonstrated by the ….

This subset coexpresses CD14, CD16, and CD33 and is thus of myeloid origin. In contrast to. CD14 monocytes, DCSIGN blood cells.

Mar 1, 2002 Several receptors expressed by immature DCs belong to the C-type lectin superfamily, … Here, DCSIGN efficiently transmits the virus to T lymphocytes

Jul 14, 2006 Although B cells that express DCSIGN do not replicate HIV-1, they serve as … receptors [12–15], with conflicting reports on expression of DCSIGN[16,17]. …..
human herpesvirus 8 infects DC and macrophages via DCSIGN …

Results. The effect of human milk on direct HIV-1 infection of CD4+ T lymphocytesexpressing the DCSIGN receptor (Raji-DCSIGN) (8).



An indictment of Ebola response  

Panel calls for reform of global public health system in wake of epidemic

By B. D. Colen, Harvard Staff Writer

“The most egregious failure was by WHO in the delay in sounding the alarm,” said Harvard’s Ashish Jha.

An independent group of 19 international experts, convened by theHarvard Global Health Institute and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), today issued a scathing analysis of the global response to the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The members of the Harvard-LSHTM Independent Panel on the Global Response to Ebola said that while the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak “engendered acts of understanding, courage, and solidarity,” it also caused “immense human suffering, fear and chaos, largely unchecked by high-level political leadership or reliable and rapid institutional responses.”

The report, published in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet, is especially hard on the World Health Organization (WHO), which the panel contends failed to provide the leadership and support needed to deal properly with the outbreak of hemorrhagic fever that infected more than 28,000 people and claimed more than 11,000 lives.

The authors of the report, who were affiliated with, but functioned independently from, such disparate organizations as the Council on Foreign Relations, Médecins Sans Frontières, Indiana University law school, and theAIDS Health Care Foundation, reminded readers that the Ebola epidemic “brought national health systems to their knees, rolled back hard-won social and economic gains in a region recovering from civil wars, sparked worldwide panic, and cost at least several billion dollars in short-term control efforts and economic losses.”

“The most egregious failure was by WHO in the delay in sounding the alarm,” said Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, K.T. Li Professor of International Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “People at WHO were aware that there was an Ebola outbreak that was getting out of control by spring … and it took until August to declare a public health emergency … Those were precious months,” said Jha.

The panel was co-chaired by Professor Peter Piot, director of the LSHTM and co-discoverer of the Ebola virus. Piot said, “We need to strengthen core capacities in all countries to detect, report, and respond rapidly to small outbreaks, in order to prevent them from becoming large-scale emergencies. Major reform of national and global systems to respond to epidemics are not only feasible, but also essential so that we do not witness such depths of suffering, death, and social and economic havoc in future epidemics. The AIDS pandemic put global health on the world’s agenda. The Ebola crisis in West Africa should now be an equal game-changer for how the world prevents and responds to epidemics.”

Liberian Mosoka Fallah of Action Contre la Faim International and a member of the panel said, “The human misery and deaths from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa demand a team of independent thinkers to serve as a mirror of reflection on how and why the global response to the greatest Ebola calamity in human history was late, feeble, and uncoordinated. The threat of infectious disease anywhere is the threat of infectious disease everywhere. The world has become one big village.”

The global response to Ebola is being examined by a number of different panels, Jha said, including a group at WHO and another at the United Nations. During the height of the epidemic in fall, 2014, Jha met with Julio Frenk, then the dean of the Harvard Chan School, and Suerie Moon, research director and co-chair of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Forum on Global Governance for Health, and a Harvard Chan faculty member. Together, they “decided this deserves independent examination; we can’t let this happen again,” Jha said.

“The Ebola outbreak is a stark reminder of the fragility of health security in an interdependent word,” the report reads, “and of the importance of building a more robust global system to protect all people from such risks.

“A more humane, competent, and timely response to future outbreaks requires greater willingness to assist affected populations, and systematic investments to enable the global community to perform four key functions: strengthen core capacities within and among countries to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks when and where they occur; mobilize faster and more effective external assistance when countries are unable to prevent an outbreak from turning into a crisis alone; rapidly produce and widely share relevant knowledge, from community mobilization strategies to protective measures for health workers, from rapid diagnostic tools to vaccines; [and] provide stewardship over the whole system, entailing strong leadership, coordination, priority setting, and robust accountability from all involved actors.”

Though it pulls no punches in its criticism of the ways institutions and nations responded to the Ebola crisis, the Harvard-LSHTM report is also a positive document, offering 10 concrete recommendations to strengthen public health systems and future responses.

Those recommendations fall into four areas: preventing major disease outbreaks; responding to outbreaks; producing and sharing data, knowledge, and technologies; and improving the governance of the global health system, “with a focus on the World Health Organization.”

One recommendation is that WHO create a dedicated center “for outbreak response, with strong technical capacity, protected budget, and clear lines of accountability,” and that that center be governed by a separate board independent of the WHO bureaucracy.

“Our primary goal is to convince the high-level political leaders, north and south, to seize the moment to make necessary and enduring changes to better prepare for future outbreaks, while memories of the human health costs of inaction remain vivid and fresh,” the report said.

“There is a high risk here of not learning our lessons,” said Jha. “We’ve had outbreaks like this before, and often you get thoughtful reviews, and august bodies that look at it, and people say, ‘We will get to this right away,’ and then other things draw our attention. I think we owe it to the more than 11,000 people who died in West Africa to see that that doesn’t happen this time.”


The Lancet 2015

Ebola—lessons learned: Authors from Harvard’s Global Health Institute and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine outline 10 proposals to help prevent future health catastrophes, based on experiences from the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak in west Africa.

Timeline infographic

Illustration demonstrating pathogenesis of vascular leak in Ebola virus disease - Copyright: Elsevier

The current outbreak of Ebola in west Africa is both a public health emergency of international concern and a human tragedy.

The Lancet Ebola Resource Centre contains all related resources from The Lancet family of journals offered with free access to assist health workers and researchers in their important work to bring this outbreak to a close a quickly as possible.

Find out more about Ebola in The Lancet’s Seminar.


Expert panel slams WHO’s poor showing against Ebola
John Maurice
The Lancet, July 13, 2015;Vol. 386, No. 9990, e1

Criticism of WHO’s response to the west African Ebola crisis spawned an expert review that this week proposed several solutions to restore the agency’s performance. John Maurice reports.

WHO suffers from an incapacity “to deliver a full emergency public health response” against a severe epidemic. So concluded a panel of six international health experts in a damning report released on July 7. They prescribed 21 actions aimed at restoring WHO’s “pre-eminence as the guardian of global public health”.

The panel was commissioned by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan in response to widespread criticism that WHO had mishandled its response to the west African Ebola epidemic. The panel corroborated many of the criticisms. Chief among them was the “unjustifiable” time it took WHO to declare the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern”. Chan made this declaration 5 months after the escalating spread of Ebola had become evident. WHO officials claim that the delay in making the official declaration did not affect its operations involving some 100 staff in the field in the early months of the epidemic.

WHO’s Member States also drew sharp criticism from the panel. Many applied travel bans during the epidemic without WHO authorisation, thereby contravening the International Health Regulations (IHR) and “causing negative political, economic and social consequences for the affected countries”. Perhaps the most damning criticism of WHO came from Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), whose teams were among the first to arrive at the scene of the outbreak in March, 2014. An MSF reportpublished in March, 2015, describes how MSF was unable to convince WHO that the epidemic was out of control. “WHO officials”, the report notes, “called us alarmists”.

Four of the panel’s recommendations stand out: countries should be given incentives to comply with the IHR and disincentives, such as sanctions, when they flout them; a brand-new WHO Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response should be created; a contingency fund of US$100 million to be used solely to finance outbreak responses should be established; and an intermediate trigger should be set up to alert the health community to a health crisis before it becomes an emergency.

Asked whether the panel’s report meets her concerns, MSF president Joanne Liu tells The Lancet: “It has many strong points for us. But how they will translate into real action on the ground” is unclear. Liu is particularly pleased with the panel’s call for greater community engagement in epidemic response efforts. “As regards an intermediate alert”, she says, “it should be based on the needs of the affected communities, not just on a perceived security risk for other countries. MSF didn’t wait for an official declaration before going into the field.”

David Heymann, head and senior fellow at the Centre on Global Health Security in Chatham House, London, wonders whether the panel’s recommendations for fundamental changes in the decision-making processes can be implemented. “WHO has a flawed structure and I’m not sure its Member States have the will to change that.” He commends the panel’s call for strengthening existing emergency response mechanisms, such as the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN). “This is an agile, sustainable network of epidemiologists, logisticians, and other field-support experts from WHO Member States. It goes immediately into action to prevent outbreaks from becoming emergencies of international concern and has worked extremely well in previous Ebola outbreaks and in the 2003 SARS epidemic.” He believes that the existence of GOARN, with an added external advisory group, obviates the need for the new WHO emergency response centre proposed by the panel.

Will WHO implement the recommendations? “If it doesn’t implement them now”, says Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, “it will never do so, because the Ebola epidemic has really shocked people and has exposed the structural weaknesses in WHO. Reforming its emergency response capabilities means reducing the bureaucracy and speeding up its capacity to respond. And that means appointing the very best people.” Farrar is enthusiastic about the proposed creation of a new WHO emergency response body. “It should be overseen by an independent board and needs to be outside the influence of politics and truly independent. It also needs to be given the right authority, the right budget, and the right mandate in order to attract the right leadership.”

Rick Brennan, director of WHO’s emergency operations, found the panel’s report constructive. “Work has already begun on several of the recommendations, such as increasing staff and funds for emergency operations and integrating our health security and humanitarian work. I’m convinced that we will implement the rest of the recommendations, including the creation of a new WHO health emergency centre.”

Experts were unanimous on one point made in the report. With 20–30 cases occurring every week, Ebola in west Africa is not over and many eyes are now on WHO’s role in ending it.

A plan to protect the world—and save WHO
The Lancet July 11, 2015
The Lancet, Vol. 386, No. 9989, p103

“WHO must reestablish its pre-eminence as the guardian of global public health.” These words resonate throughout the final report of the Ebola Interim Assessment Panel, requested by WHO’s Executive Board, chaired by Dame Barbara Stocking, and published this week. The findings of the panel present a devastating critique of WHO and the chronic inaction of its member states, which together created the conditions for an Ebola virus disease outbreak of unprecedented ferocity and human tragedy. The Stocking Report, as it will come to be known, sets out in agonising detail how the entire global health system fatally let down the people of west Africa.

Stocking reserves her harshest criticism for WHO. The delays in announcing a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (it took 5 months from announcing an “unprecedented outbreak” in April, 2014, to declaring a public health emergency on August 8) was “unjustifiable”. The agency’s culture is unfit to manage an emergency response. Independent and courageous decision-making by the Director-General of WHO and her team “was absent in the early months of the Ebola crisis”. The agency was slow and reactive to events. WHO has lost its position as the authoritative body on health emergencies. It thought it could manage Ebola through polite behind-the-scenes international diplomacy. It failed to recognise that Ebola was a health emergency, not a diplomatic puzzle. And WHO’s communication strategy for Ebola simply “failed”. The agency failed to communicate proactively and it failed to establish itself as the authoritative voice on the Ebola outbreak. Member States of WHO are not spared. They have persistently failed to take the International Health Regulations (IHR, 2005) seriously—a position that is “irresponsible” and “untenable” for global health security. They should adopt the notion of “shared sovereignty”. They need to invest in WHO (the Panel proposes a modest 5% increase in assessed contributions in 2016).

The Panel’s recommendations are clear and forthright. Although WHO was severely criticised, Stocking argues that the agency should still take the lead for emergency health responses. But to do so, WHO must undergo “significant transformation”—not least, adequate funding and a change in culture. It must provide costed plans for establishing core public health capacities as set out in the IHR (2005). It should establish a new WHO Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response, with an independent board that publishes a report on Global Health Security annually. WHO country and regional offices should be strengthened. The agency should take its role in accelerating the research and development of diagnostics, vaccines, and medicines more seriously. And WHO should do more to coordinate its activities with other parts of the humanitarian community. The IHR Review Committee should examine the value of an intermediate alert for a public health emergency, lowering the threshold at which the world can be warned of a new health risk. And sanctions against countries that violate the IHR should be considered.

The Panel makes clear that global health must be put at the centre of the global security agenda. But while its recommendations are cogent, there are three important omissions that deserve attention. First, the Panel does not address the vicious cycle within which WHO is caught. The reason why WHO is so poorly resourced is that it lacks the confidence of donors. As the agency continues to underperform because of chronic underinvestment, so that lack of confidence (and the resultant unwillingness to invest) only worsens. The Panel presents no way out of this endless circle of failure. Second, one of the most important responsibilities for governments is the preservation of public order and national security. In the context of Ebola (indeed, any health crisis), this means creating resilient health systems to protect populations from unexpected shocks, as explained by Mosoka Fallah and colleagues in a letter from Liberia’s Ministry of Health this week. Universal health coverage should have been emphasised as a crucial instrument in building global health security. Finally, the Panel rightly notes that, “While WHO has already accepted the need for transformation of its organisational culture and delivery, it will need to be held accountable to ensure that this transformation is achieved”. However, nowhere does the Panel recommend the accountability mechanism to monitor and review the implementation of its recommendations. Our fear is that the unique opportunity presented by the Stocking Report will be squandered. We have little confidence that the governing bodies of WHO will deliver on the expectations of Stocking and her team. The responsibility for action therefore falls to WHO’s Director-General. Dr Margaret Chan has 20 months to save her agency from further and possibly irreversible reputational damage.

ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test kit for point-of-care and laboratory-based testing for Ebola virus disease: a field validation study
Mara Jana Broadhurst, John Daniel Kelly, Ann Miller, Amanda Semper, Daniel Bailey, et al.

The Lancet, June 25, 2015; Vol. 386, No. 9996, p867–874    
Background  At present, diagnosis of Ebola virus disease requires transport of venepuncture blood to field biocontainment laboratories for testing by real-time RT-PCR, resulting in delays that complicate patient care and infection control efforts. Therefore, an urgent need exists for a point-of-care rapid diagnostic test for this disease. In this Article, we report the results of a field validation of the Corgenix ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test kit.
Methods   We performed the rapid diagnostic test on fingerstick blood samples from 106 individuals with suspected Ebola virus disease presenting at two clinical centres in Sierra Leone. Adults and children who were able to provide verbal consent or assent were included; we excluded patients with haemodynamic instability and those who were unable to cooperate with fingerstick or venous blood draw. Two independent readers scored each rapid diagnostic test, with any disagreements resolved by a third. We compared point-of-care rapid diagnostic test results with clinical real-time RT-PCR results (RealStar Filovirus Screen RT-PCR kit 1·0; altona Diagnostics GmbH, Hamburg, Germany) for venepuncture plasma samples tested in a Public Health England field reference laboratory (Port Loko, Sierra Leone). Separately, we performed the rapid diagnostic test (on whole blood) and real-time RT-PCR (on plasma) on 284 specimens in the reference laboratory, which were submitted to the laboratory for testing from many clinical sites in Sierra Leone, including our two clinical centres.
Findings   In point-of-care testing, all 28 patients who tested positive for Ebola virus disease by RT-PCR were also positive by fingerstick rapid diagnostic test (sensitivity 100% [95% CI 87·7–100]), and 71 of 77 patients who tested negative by RT-PCR were also negative by the rapid diagnostic test (specificity 92·2% [95% CI 83·8–97·1]). In laboratory testing, all 45 specimens that tested positive by RT-PCR were also positive by the rapid diagnostic test (sensitivity 100% [95% CI 92·1–100]), and 214 of 232 specimens that tested negative by RT-PCR were also negative by the rapid diagnostic test (specificity 92·2% [88·0–95·3]). The two independent readers agreed about 95·2% of point-of-care and 98·6% of reference laboratory rapid diagnostic test results. Cycle threshold values ranged from 15·9 to 26·3 (mean 22·6 [SD 2·6]) for the PCR-positive point-of-care cohort and from 17·5 to 26·3 (mean 21·5 [2·7]) for the reference laboratory cohort. Six of 16 banked plasma samples from rapid diagnostic test-positive and altona-negative patients were positive by an alternative real-time RT-PCR assay (the Trombley assay); three (17%) of 18 samples from individuals who were negative by both the rapid diagnostic test and altona test were also positive by Trombley.
Interpretation   The ReEBOV rapid diagnostic test had 100% sensitivity and 92% specificity in both point-of-care and reference laboratory testing in this population (maximum cycle threshold 26·3). With two independent readers, the test detected all patients who were positive for Ebola virus by altona real-time RT-PCR; however, this benchmark itself had imperfect sensitivity.
Malaria morbidity and mortality in Ebola-affected countries caused by decreased health-care capacity, and the potential effect of mitigation strategies: a modelling analysis
Patrick G T Walker, Michael T White, Jamie T Griffin, Alison Reynolds, Neil M Ferguson, Azra C Ghani
The Lancet Infectious Diseases, April 23, 2015; Vol. 15, No. 7, p825–832    
Background  The ongoing Ebola epidemic in parts of west Africa largely overwhelmed health-care systems in 2014, making adequate care for malaria impossible and threatening the gains in malaria control achieved over the past decade. We quantified this additional indirect burden of Ebola virus disease.
Methods  We estimated the number of cases and deaths from malaria in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone from Demographic and Health Surveys data for malaria prevalence and coverage of malaria interventions before the Ebola outbreak. We then removed the effect of treatment and hospital care to estimate additional cases and deaths from malaria caused by reduced health-care capacity and potential disruption of delivery of insecticide-treated bednets. We modelled the potential effect of emergency mass drug administration in affected areas on malaria cases and health-care demand.
Findings  If malaria care ceased as a result of the Ebola epidemic, untreated cases of malaria would have increased by 45% (95% credible interval 43–49) in Guinea, 88% (83–93) in Sierra Leone, and 140% (135–147) in Liberia in 2014. This increase is equivalent to 3·5 million (95% credible interval 2·6 million to 4·9 million) additional untreated cases, with 10 900 (5700–21 400) additional malaria-attributable deaths. Mass drug administration and distribution of insecticide-treated bednets timed to coincide with the 2015 malaria transmission season could largely mitigate the effect of Ebola virus disease on malaria.
Interpretation  These findings suggest that untreated malaria cases as a result of reduced health-care capacity probably contributed substantially to the morbidity caused by the Ebola crisis. Mass drug administration can be an effective means to mitigate this burden and reduce the number of non-Ebola fever cases within health systems.

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Thymus vs Bone Marrow, Two Cell Types in Human Immunology: B- and T-cell differences

Reporter: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

Differences Between B-Cells and T-Cells

Aryal Sagar

Although mature lymphocytes all look pretty much alike, they are extraordinarily diverse in their functions. The most abundant lymphocytes are:

B lymphocytes (often simply called B cells) and
T lymphocytes (likewise called T cells)

Differences between B-Cells and T-Cells





1 Name B lymphocytes T lymphocytes
2 Origin Bone Marrow Thymus
3 Position Outside Lymph Node Interior of Lymph Node
4 Membranereceptor BCR (= immunoglobulin) for antigen TCR for antigen
5 Connections B-cells can connect to antigens right on the surface of the invading virus or bacteria. T-cells can only connect to virus antigens on the outside of infected cells.
6 Tissue Distribution Germinal centres of lymph nodes, spleen, gut, respiratory tract; also subcapsular and medullary cords of lymph nodes Parafollicular areas of cortex innodes, periarteriolar in spleen
7 Life Span Life span is short Life span is long
8 Surface Antibodies Surface Antibodies present Absence of surface antibodies
9 Secretion They secrete antibodies They secrete Lymphokines
10 Function В-cells form humoral or antibody-mediated immune system (AMI). T-cells form cell-mediated immune system (CMI).
11 Blood 20% of lymphocytes 80% of lymphocytes; CD4 > CD8
12 Formation They form plasma cells and memory cells. They form killer, helper and suppressor cells.
13 Movement to Infection Site Plasma cells do not move to the site of infection. Lymphoblasts move to the site of infection.
14 Function Plasma cells do not react against transplants and cancer cells. Killer cells react against transplants and cancer cells.
15 Function Plasma cells have no inhibitory effect on immune system. Suppressor cells inhibit immune system.
16 Function They defend against viruses and bacteria that enter the blood and lymph. They defend against pathogens including protists and fungi that enter the cells.
Differences Between B-Cells and T-Cells

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Author: Ritu Saxena, Ph.D.

Recently, two world renowned innovators, Steve Jobs-the CEO of Apple Inc. and Dr. Steinman-winner of 2011 Nobel prize in Physiology or medicine lost their life battle against Pancreatic cancer. Although both Jobs and Steinman suffered from the same disease, they were diagnosed with two fundamentally different forms of cancer of pancreas.

Steve lived with the disease for 8 years, a relatively long time for Pancreatic cancer patients to survive. The reason is attributed to the rare form of cancer of pancreas he suffered from-referred to as pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. Steinman, on the other hand died due to a more common form of pancreatic cancer, the adenocarcenoma.

Neuroendocrine tumors arise from islands of hormone-producing cells (islets), that happen to be in that organ. Jobs learned in 2003 that he had an extremely rare form of this cancer, an islet-cell neuroendocrine tumor. In his email to  Apple employees in 2004, Steven Jobs wrote “I have some personal news that I need to share with you, and I wanted you to hear it directly from me,” Jobs said in the message, which he sent from his hospital bed. “I had a very rare form of pancreatic cancer called an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor, which represents about 1 percent of the total cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed each year, and can be cured by surgical removal if diagnosed in time (mine was). I will not require any chemotherapy or radiation treatments.”

About 2,500 cases of pancreatic islet cell tumors are seen in the United States each year, according to the University of Southern California’s Center for Pancreatic and Biliary Diseases. These tumors, which are derived from neuroendocrine cells, tend to be slow growing and are treatable even after they have metastasized, said the center’s Web site.

The management strategy of neuroendrocrine tumors (NET) like any other disease is supposed to be curative where possible. As suggested by several researchers including Ramage et al (, ), surgery is the only curative option currently available for NETs. The updated guidelines published for the NET management state the over the past few years, there have been advances in the management of neuroendocrine tumours, which have included clearer characterisation, more specific and therapeutically relevant diagnosis, and improved treatments. However, because of the uncommon nature of the disease, there remain few randomised trials in the field, hence all evidence mentioned in the research article is considered relatively weak compared with other more common cancers. For patients who are diagnosed early enough to be candidates for surgery, the aim is to keep the patient disease- and symptom-free for as long as possible. For patients suffering from advanced-stage NETs, operative therapy is rarely curative and chemotherapy could be used on metastasized NETs.

As reported in a story covered by CNN in 2008, there was a lot of speculation when he appeared rail-thin at the unveiling of the new iPhone. Jobs eventually said in January 2009 that doctors said he dropped so much weight because of “a hormone imbalance that has been ‘robbing’ me of the proteins my body needs to be healthy. Sophisticated blood tests have confirmed this diagnosis.” This statement explains how symptoms of hormonal excess in NET patients must be controlled before surgical procedure is followed. Also, recommended management of the symptoms of hormonal hypersecretion depends on the hormone secreted. For example, glucose levels in patients with insulinomas should be stabilized with diet and/or diazoxide. Gastrin hypersecretion in patients with gastrinomas may be managed with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).

Steinman, on the other hand, suffered from adenocarcenoma that arises from the pancreatic cells themselves, referred to as the “far more common form of pancreatic cancer” by Jobs. He further wrote in his memo “…(adenocarcenoma) is currently not curable and usually carries a life expectancy of around one year after diagnosis. I mention this because when one hears ‘pancreatic cancer’ (or Googles it), one immediately encounters this far more common and deadly form, which, thank God, is not what I had.”

Dr. Steinman won the 2011 Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology for his early-career landmark discovery about the immune system in the 1970s when he first described ‘dendritic cells’ with the help of his mentor Zanvil Cohn at Rockefeller University. Unfortunately, he died just three days before the official announcement. He had been suffering from pancreatic cancer for four years, had been undergoing treatment using a pioneering immunotherapy based on his own research. Dendritic cells from his body were deployed to mount an assault on his cancer. His early research at Rockefeller, began as an attempt to understand the primary white cells of the immune system — the large “eating” macrophages and the exquisitely specific lymphocytes, which operate in a variety of ways to spot, apprehend and destroy infectious microorganisms and tumor cells. Steinman’s subsequent research pointed to dendritic cells as important and unique accessories in the onset of several immune responses, including clinically important situations such as rejection of graft, resistance to tumors, autoimmune diseases and infections including AIDS.

The standard of care in the United States for the treatment of locally advanced pancreatic cancer is a combination of low-dose chemotherapy given simultaneously with radiation treatments to the pancreas and surrounding tissues. Radiation treatments are designed to lower the risk of local growth of the cancer, thereby minimizing the symptoms that local progression causes (back or belly pain, nausea, loss of appetite, intestinal blockage, jaundice).

Research Efforts on Pancreatic Cancer: The untimely passing of the geniuses reminds us how important research in the area of pancreatic cancer is which lead to finding new therapeutic targets that might stem reliable therapies. A recent example is the report published in Science Daily stating that the protein RGL2 might be a promising therapeutic target for pancreatic cancer. The conclusion was derived via research published in November in the Journal of Biological Chemistry by a team led by Channing Der, PhD from UNC Lineberger Cancer Center.   For almost three decades, scientists and physicians have known that a gene called the KRAS oncogene is mutated in virtually all pancreatic cancers, making it an important target for scientists looking for a way to stop the growth of pancreatic cancer tumors. The problem is that the KRAS gene triggers cancer cell growth in numerous ways, through multiple cell signaling pathways, and scientists have had difficulty determining which one will be the most promising to block — an important first step in designing a drug for use in patients. Dr. Der said that “We are particularly optimistic about RGL2 because we know that this protein is a critical component of KRAS signaling to another class of proteins called Ral GTPases, which are essential for the growth of almost all pancreatic tumors.”

Another groundbreaking research was published in the journal Nature talks about discovering the link between a gene and the prognosis of Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcenoma. The team found that when a gene involved in protein degradation is switched-off through chemical tags on the DNA’s surface, pancreatic cancer cells are protected from the bodies’ natural cell death processes, become more aggressive, and can rapidly spread. Their research study proposed USP9X to be a major tumour suppressor gene with prognostic and therapeutic relevance in pancreatic cancer.

Although, most of the research efforts are concentrated on the more common form of cancer, pancreatic adenocarcenoma, similar research efforts are needed for developing cure for the uncommon form, the one Steve Jobs suffered from, neuroendocrine cancer.

What we lost to the disease is more than the two geniuses, we lost the possibility of further innovation that might have changed the world in ways we could not imagine. The loss, though, sheds light on the importance of finding a cure for the disease and its different types. Hope the research community is able to interpret and find answers to the enigma of Pancreatic cancer and its diverse forms in which it strikes.

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