A team of researchers led by Université de Montréal professor Jean-François Côté at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute, Canada, identified a protein called AXL whose action is crucial for hypoxia to take place in solid tumours. The study paves way for a highly promising therapeutic target to counter cancers like HER2-positive breast cancer in solid tumours, the researchers say.
Côté’s team were researching an important phenomenon in solid tumours called hypoxia. Hypoxia is manifested by a lack of oxygen caused by the rapid growth of the tumour and leads to the production of metastases, a weakened immune system and resistance to treatment. By making tumours more aggressive while reducing the body’s ability to defend itself, hypoxia promotes cancer progression, which can be fatal to those affected.
The researchers said that they observed a recovery of blood vessels and a revitalization of the tumour’s immune environment by blocking the action of this protein in the tumour. Blocking the action of the tumour also reduced its ability to metastasise in other organs.
Marie-Anne Goyette, the new study’s first author and a doctoral student in Côté’s laboratory, said: “It’s as if we had succeeded, on the one hand, in breaking down the protective walls of the tumour against the immune system, thus making it more vulnerable to immunological treatments, and, on the other hand, in preventing the tumour from moving elsewhere.”
The researchers also shared the hope that the potential of this study is all the more important as it opens the way for further research on the subject from the perspective of various fields of biomedical research.
Dr Cote said: “We have not only shed light on a central mechanism of the functioning of some of the most aggressive tumours, but in doing so we have also unveiled a way to create an environment conducive to more effective treatments.”
The results of the research were published in the journal PNAS, under the title “Targeting Axl favours an anti-tumorigenic microenvironment that enhances immunotherapy responses by decreasing Hif-1a levels” on July 12, 2021.