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Patients diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) have an increased risk of rapid metastasis compared to other subtypes. Predicting long-term survival post-chemotherapy in patients with TNBC is difficult, yet enhanced infiltration of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) has been associated with therapeutic response and reduced risk of metastatic relapse. Immune biomarkers that predict the immune state of a tumor and risk of metastatic relapse pre- or mid-neoadjuvant chemotherapy are urgently needed to allow earlier implementation of alternate therapies that may reduce TNBC patient mortality. Utilizing a neoadjuvant chemotherapy trial where TNBC patients had sequential biopsies taken, we demonstrate that measurement of T-cell subsets and effector function, specifically CD45RO expression, throughout chemotherapy predicts risk of metastatic relapse. Furthermore, we identified the tumor inherent interferon regulatory factor IRF9 as a marker of active intratumoral type I and II interferon (IFN) signaling and reduced risk of distant relapse. Functional implications of tumor intrinsic IFN signaling were demonstrated using an immunocompetent mouse model of TNBC, where enhanced type I IFN signaling increased anti-tumor immunity and metastasis-free survival post-chemotherapy. Using two independent adjuvant cohorts we were able to validate loss of IRF9 as a poor prognostic biomarker pre-chemotherapy. Thus, IRF9 expression may offer early insight into TNBC patient prognosis and tumor heat, allowing for identification of patients that are unlikely to respond to chemotherapy alone and could benefit from further immune-based therapeutic intervention.
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