WELLINGTON, March 6 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand researchers said Monday they have identified an immune cell that might help boost survival rates among colorectal cancer patients.
Researchers with Otago University's Department of Microbiology and Immunology found that patients with more "effector T regulatory" (Treg) immune cells present in their tumors were more likely to be disease-free for longer than those who had fewer of the cells.
The team followed 32 people with early stage colorectal cancer for more than five years and 13 individuals had a recurrence of their cancer over this time.
They used a new tool, the Immunoscore, to measure basic immune cells in tumors, and looked at which type of immune responses were associated with patient survival.
The findings meant it could be possible to measure immune responses in colorectal cancer patients to estimate which patients were likely to get their cancer back and should therefore be given additional treatment, study co-author Kirsten Ward-Hartstonge said.
"This information could be used to tailor existing therapies to be targeted to people who really need them, rather than taking a more blanket approach," Ward-Hartstonge said in a statement.
Around a quarter of patients who were currently considered "low risk" would eventually develop the disease again.
These patients usually did not receive chemotherapy or radiotherapy because the risks and costs were thought to outweigh the benefits.
"By measuring an individual patient's Immunoscore and 'effector Treg' immune cells, it may be possible to more accurately identify patients at high risk of getting their disease back and treating them more effectively," she said.
Other research had shown that New Zealand and Australia had the highest rates of colorectal cancer incidence and death in the world.