The histology of liver metastases from colon cancer could influence immunotherapy

  • The organization of the tissue in the liver metastases of colon cancer can have a great influence on the prognosis of this disease and on the effectiveness of immunotherapy.
  • A study by IDIBELL and ICO in collaboration with Uppsala University analyzes antitumor immune activity in encapsulated metastases compared to unencapsulated ones.
  • The results may be useful for the design of new therapies that redirect immune activity to the tumor.
Imatge Mollevi

Globally, colon cancer is the third most common tumor with nearly 2 million new cases each year. Its incidence is increasing year after year and it is the leading cause of cancer death. Approximately 50% of patients with colorectal cancer develop liver metastasis, a complication that in 90% of cases results in death within less than 5 years. This disease is therefore a global health priority.

One of the factors that influences the prognosis in case of liver metastasis is the tissue organization of the tumor. If the metastasis is encapsulated – it is surrounded by a layer of cells and fibers that restricts its growth – the prognosis is much more positive than if it is non-encapsulated, where the tumor tissue is in contact with the healthy liver. The specific explanation, however, is not yet clear.

In this sense, the research group on tumor and stromal chemoresistance of IDIBELL and the ProCURE program in collaboration with Uppsala University undertook a study that also counted on the participation of surgeons, pathologists, oncologists and biologists from the Bellvitge Campus in order to analyze the differences in the immune activity of metastatic tissue according to its tissue organization: how many immune cells are there? Of what kind are them? Do they attack the tumor? The main finding has been observing that there is more anti-tumor immune activity in encapsulated metastases compared to non-encapsulated ones, where, on the other hand, the existing immune cells do not fight the tumor and therefore it grows more easily. This could help explain why the latter have a worse prognosis.

These results could help design immunotherapies that take into account the histological pattern of growth of liver metastases.” Explains Dr. David G. Molleví, study leader.



The Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) is a biomedical research center created in 2004. It is participated by the Bellvitge University Hospital and the Viladecans Hospital of the Catalan Institute of Health, the Catalan Institute of Oncology, the University of Barcelona and the City Council of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat.

IDIBELL is a member of the Campus of International Excellence of the University of Barcelona HUBc and is part of the CERCA institution of the Generalitat de Catalunya. In 2009 it became one of the first five Spanish research centers accredited as a health research institute by the Carlos III Health Institute. In addition, it is part of the “HR Excellence in Research” program of the European Union and is a member of EATRIS and REGIC. Since 2018, IDIBELL has been an Accredited Center of the AECC Scientific Foundation (FCAECC).

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