June 16, 2022

Breast cancer biomarkers of response

Vanderbilt researchers have identified blood-based biomarkers associated with complete responses to neoadjuvant chemotherapy in patients with breast cancer.

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) is the standard of care for many patients with breast cancer. Biomarkers of response are needed to identify appropriate therapies and avoid unnecessary toxicity.

In a retrospective study of four cohorts of NAC-treated patients with breast cancer, Margaret Axelrod, PhD, and her advisor, Justin Balko, PharmD, PhD, and colleagues used single-cell RNA sequencing to identify an immunologic gene signature preferentially expressed by peripheral monocytes (white blood cells) that was higher in patients with a complete response.

Peripheral monocytes measured clinically also were higher in patients with good outcomes.

This study, published in Cancer Research Communications, found that peripheral (minimally invasive) biomarkers may be helpful in predicting long-term outcomes in patients undergoing NAC. These results also suggest that patients with higher levels of monocytes reflect robust blood cell regeneration after chemotherapy, leading to better outcomes following treatment.

Further studies are needed to test this hypothesis, as well as to explore the utility of using peripheral blood biomarkers to predict response to immunotherapy.

Funding for this project was provided by a Susan G. Komen Career Catalyst Grant, National Institutes of Health grants CA181491 and CA098131, a Department of Defense Era of Hope Award, and by Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Support Grant CA068485.