Study finds B cells could improve immunotherapies for cancer

Researchers have discovered that B cells aid T cells in fighting cancer, which could be an area of development for immunotherapies.

image representing immunotherapies

A study has identified a potential pathway for improving therapies to combat cancer. The researchers found that B cells could enhance immunotherapy to treat melanoma, which is currently focused on T cells.

The investigation was conducted by the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s (EMBL) European Bioinformatics Institute, UK and the Medical University of Vienna, Austria.

Established immunotherapies utilise T cells, which form an essential arm of the immune system’s fight against cancer cells. However, the researchers found that B cells can guide T cells to tumours via the secretion of distinct messenger molecules.

The team observed that when B cells were depleted from melanoma patients, the number of T cells and other immune cells dramatically decreased within tumours. In subsequent experiments, the researchers showed that a certain subtype of B cells appeared to be responsible for guiding T cells and other immune cells to tumours.

Using multiplex-immunostaining to characterise B cells (credit: Christine Wagner).

The melanoma cells seemed to force the B cells to develop into their subtype. The team found that the specific subtype also increased activation of current immune therapies on T cells and promoted higher numbers of this B cell subtype in tumours.

“For the first time, we found that B cells also play an important part in the process and help T cells find the tumour. The role of B cells in immunotherapy is still largely unknown, but it seems they may have more impact than previously thought,” explains Johannes Griss, Researcher at the Medical University of Vienna and EMBL-EBI.

According to the researchers, more investigation is needed into the mechanisms driving B cells, but this could support current immunotherapies in cancer patients.

The results were published in Nature Communications.