The team, led by Drs. Robert Bradley and Stephen Tapscott, looked at the gene expression profiles of nearly 10,000 cancers from 33 different cancer types and discovered that DUX4, a gene mostly known for its link to a specific muscular dystrophy (facioscapulohumeral dystrophy, or FSHD), consistently presented itself in many different solid tumors, including cancers of the bladder, breast, lung, kidney and stomach. DUX4 prevented immune cells from recognizing the cancer cells, so that patients whose cancers expressed the gene were less likely to respond to immunotherapy. Because DUX4 is expressed in many cancers, blocking its activity might increase the success of immune checkpoint inhibitors.
"Immunotherapy can be incredibly powerful against previously untreatable cancers, but it isn't effective yet for most patients," said Bradley. "Understanding the mechanisms that prevent the immune system from identifying and attacking tumors is a first step toward finding cures for all cancer patients."
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