There are about 1.4 million new colorectal cancer patients worldwide. In Italy, every year, there are between 15,000 and 20,000 new cases, of which 60-80% develop liver metastases during the course of the disease. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a disease characterized by significant heterogeneity, both in clinical manifestations and in response to therapies. To date, there are no clinical parameters that allow to predict the response to therapy, and surgery is not always the ideal path for every patient.

The Journal of Experimental Medicine has recently published the results of a research, conducted by Humanitas, focused on studying metastases. The work was partially sponsored by the AIRC Foundation for Cancer Research initiative within the larger 5 × 1000 donations program. The goal of the study was “to analyze an immune marker capable of guiding the activity of surgeons in identifying the best path for each patient, with a view to ever more personalized and precise medicine, ” as explained by Dr. Matteo Donadon, specialized surgeon at the Humanitas Hepatobiliary Surgery Department.

“In the context of this pathology,” the doctor explained, “it is important to understand the response of each patient to the metastases removal surgery: whether there may be relapses and whether other therapies could be beneficial”.

The Humanitas study

The Macrophage morphology correlates with single-cell diversity and prognosis in colorectal liver metastasis study is a clear example of translational research according to the well-known motto “from the patient’s bed to the laboratory and back to the patient”.

“The work at the Humanitas laboratory focused on examining tissue samples of 101 patients, operated for liver metastases from colorectal cancer, to observe macrophages, immune system cells active against pathogens and cancer cells, to evaluate changes in their shape and size,” explained Dr. Federica Marchesi, researcher at Humanitas.

“We conducted the first analysis of macrophages present in tumor metastases at the single cell level, examining their shape using Imaging and Artificial Intelligence techniques. We discovered that the changes in the macrophages shape were associated with a better or worse response of the patient to surgery. These findings can help us to evaluate the risks of relapse of the disease, thus directing the follow-up of patients,” concluded the doctor.

The next steps of the study will be to investigate the biological mechanisms that regulate the activity of these cells and validate the applicability of this immune marker on a larger scale.