Previous laboratory research of the Netherlands Cancer Institute shows that these patients may benefit from immunotherapy together with chemotherapy. That is what the 23 women in the GELATO study received. The chemotherapy is supposed to stimulate the immune system, so that the immunotherapy can do its job.
Indeed, some patients seemed to benefit from the treatment. In 6 of the 24 participants, the doctor saw the tumor shrink or remain stable for at least six months after treatment.
Although the researchers have to look further for an effective treatment for most patients, this study is certainly good news, says Kok: “Patients with this type of cancer feel unseen. Doctors often can’t discover the tumor until relatively late, and the size of the tumor is often underestimated. I think it is very good news that it has been possible to conduct a study for these patients. Following our initiative, several studies specifically for patients with lobular breast cancer are now underway in Europe.”
Meanwhile, Kok continues delving into the issue of how breast cancer responds to immunotherapy, which is already working so well in some other patients. She was recently awarded a Rising Innovator Research Grant from the AACR, made possible in part by the Victoria's Secret Global Fund for Women's Cancers. She will use it to investigate which immune cells play a crucial role during immunotherapy. And she wants to develop new forms of immunotherapy for patients who do not (yet) respond. She is looking specifically at triple negative breast cancer, a difficult-to-treat form of breast cancer.