Scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have discovered a new method for predicting ovarian cancer survival.

In a study published in Science Translational Medicine, the researchers detailed a quick and reliable way of counting the number of cancer-fighting immune cells in the body.  Levels of these cells – called tumor-infiltrating T lymphocytes (TILs) – can help indicate the intensity of the body’s immune response to the cancer.

To count the cells, Fred Hutchinson researchers developed a new technology that easily screens for TILs by capturing the genetic information of specific proteins found on the cells’ surfaces.  They then tested their screening technique – called “QuanTILfy – on tumor samples from 30 ovarian cancer patients.  All of the patients had known survival outcomes, ranging from one to 22 months.

Overall, they found that higher TIL counts correlated with better survival rates.  For example, a patient with a survival rate of more than five years had a threefold higher TIL count than a patient with a survival rate of less than two years.

The researchers said this new technology could greatly benefit doctors and patients, by helping to guide individual cancer treatment.

“Now that we have the sensitivity and ability to reproducibly count TILs in tumors, we may be able to stratify and more effectively treat patients based on tumor TIL count,” said study author Jason Bielas, an associate member of the human biology and public health sciences divisions at Fred Hutchinson.

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