U.S. Department of Energy

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Identification and Characterization of Cancer-Destroying T-cells for Tumor Immunotherapy

A T-cell.

The Science                      

T-cells that can recognize and destroy cancer are often suppressed inside of tumors. This study identifies a specific sub-population of T-cells—found  only in tumors—whose  presence correlates with patient survival.

The Impact

In this work, researchers describe a simple method for identifying tumor-reactive, combative T-cells. Once identified, they  could be used in tumor immunotherapy—a highly effective method of cancer treatment—which involves stimulating the immune system so that the body can fight the cancer. 


Training the body’s immune system to identify and attack cancer has recently gained a great deal of attention as an effective strategy for long-lasting treatment. 

T-cells, specifically, infiltrate tumors. But not all T-cells actively fight cancer in that environment. In this study, researchers present two T-cell markers that, when present together, indicate a population that is highly enriched with tumor-reactive T-cells. 

Researchers used transcriptional profiling on sorted subpopulations of T-cells solated from tumors in ovarian, head-and-neck, and melanoma cancers to identify markers of T-cell pathways in these cells. Patients with the specific tumor-reactive cells had a higher and longer survival rates, indicating that these  special T-cells are effective at combatting cancer.


Duhen, et al. 2018. “Co-Expression of CD39 and CD103 identifies tumor-reactive CD8 TIL in human solid tumors.” Nature Communications volume 9, Article number: 2724 (2018)

July 2018
| Pacific Northwest National Laboratory