Research ArticleCancer

Digital Genomic Quantification of Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes

Science Translational Medicine  04 Dec 2013:
Vol. 5, Issue 214, pp. 214ra169
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3007247

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TILling the Soil

The immune system is geared to fight off foreign invaders, but its record against cancer is less than stellar. The recent successes of immunotherapy for cancer add urgency to the need to not only understand exactly what is happening with immune cells in the tumor—tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs)—but also how to evaluate them as metrics for an active response. However, these evaluations are limited by the tools at hand. Immunohistochemistry is one approach that may give us a big picture but not be able to be quantified precisely enough for consistent diagnostic use between laboratories. Now, Robins et al. report the advent of a digital polymerase chain reaction–based assay that can count and assess clonality of TILs within tumors.

The authors used their approach for diagnosis in acute lymphoblastic leukemia, as well as to measure TIL number in both primary and metastatic ovarian cancer. They show that higher TIL number associates improved survival in ovarian cancer patients. If verified in larger cohorts and paired with immunohistochemistry, this approach could help determine if TIL number could be a biomarker for immune response in tumors.