This was our first year attending the Cell Symposia Hallmarks of Cancer event held here in Seattle — and boy was it informative! The event brought together some of the world’s leading cancer researchers and oncologists to share the latest from their research and practices. 

We got to hear from the likes of Philip Greenburg, Head of the Program in Immunology at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Kornelia Polyak, Professor of Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. 

Here are three of the most interesting topics we learned about at this year’s event. If you want to talk more in depth about any of these topics, we’d be happy to chat! Just submit our Ask A Scientist form.

1) Subset of Dendritic Cells Found to be Critical for Activating Tumor-Specific T Cells

Tom Gajewski of the University of Chicago presented on Cancer Immunotherapy efficacy versus resistance. He linked a subset of dendritic cells to the activation process of tumor-specific T cells. The DC subset depends on a transcription factor called BATF3 that directs the program for cross presentation. 

2) Unexpected Behaviors of Tumor Cells

This was a theme woven through multiple presentations and research posters at this year’s symposium. There are certain mutations in tumor cells associated with cold tumors, including beta catenin activation, loss of PTEN, and c-myc. Vaccination and adoptive transfer of tumor-specific T cells can’t overcome the resistance of these tumors to immune assault. 

There is a corollary in trials of anti WT-1 T cells in patients where there is an initial effect, but the T cells do not persist to control the tumor. While he hasn’t yet pinpointed the cause, Phil Greenburg believes that the T cells simply don’t have enough “fuel” due to the tumor cells consuming all the glucose. 

3) Tumor Dormancy

Joan Massagué, Cyrus Ghajar, and others spoke about tumor dormancy in which tumors disseminate early in the development of cancer and remain dormant or quiescent until later emerging to be detected as metastatic disease.  

These talks dovetailed with presentations from Ayelet Erez (Weizmann Institute, Israel), Alice Shaw (Massachusetts General Hospital), and others describing metabolic resistance that protects tumors from immunotherapy and development of additional mutations that allow tumor cells to evade advanced targeted kinase inhibitors. Even with effective primary treatment, small populations of tumor cells remain and reappear.

What do you think about these topics? Let us know in the comments below.

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