Chameleon cells in the researchers’ spotlight

Dr. Heiko Bruns researches degenerate B-cells. (Image: Universitätsklinikum Erlangen)

Dr. Heiko Bruns receives 70,000 euros from the Erich and Gertrud Roggenbuck Foundation

Degenerate B-cells, so-called malignant lymphomas, are the chameleons among the body’s cells. They can change their appearance and turn into other cell types known as macrophages or phagocytes. This sounds fascinating, but it can become a big disadvantage for patients. Dr. Heiko Bruns, research associate at the Department of Medicine 5 – Haematology and Oncology (head: Prof. Dr. Andreas Mackensen) at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen is taking a close look at the chameleon cells in his current research project, which has been granted 70,000 euros in funding from the Erich and Gertrud Roggenbuck Foundation. It is his goal to develop a more gentle and target-oriented treatment for patients with lymphatic cancer.

‘Science has known for quite a while that macrophages are present in tumours and that their presence has an influence on the patient’s response to chemotherapy – and also their survival,’ explains Dr. Heiko Bruns, who is a postdoc in the working group Cellular Immunotherapy (head: Prof. Dr. Armin Gerbitz). ‘In patients with lymphatic cancer, these macrophages seem to form partly from degenerate B-cells, which means that they carry the DNA of the tumour cells but aren’t recognised as ‘bad’ by the immune system because they seem to be a part of it – they seem like the good guys.’ As malignant cells that have been transformed in this way no longer proliferate, they are insusceptible to chemotherapy.

Does that mean that chemotherapy will destroy proliferating tumour cells but leave transformed phagocytes that don’t proliferate untouched? Does it mean that patients may suffer a relapse when the phagocytes transform back into malignant tumour cells? These are the questions Dr. Bruns wants to answer. To begin with, he observed the degenerated macrophages and their behaviour in the cells of mice.

In co-operation with the Department of Nephropathology (head: Prof. Dr. Kerstin Amman) at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, he is examining the immune system’s cells in patients with lymphatic cancer. The scientists’ common goal is to develop a treatment that really gets rid of all cancer cells, even the ones that transform and hide. ‘We want to hit not only the tumour with chemotherapy, but its entire stroma, its supportive tissue,’ Heiko Bruns explains.

The Erich und Gertrude Roggenbuck-Stiftung zur Förderung der Krebsforschung (Erich and Gertrude Roggenbuck Foundation for the Advancement of Cancer Research) supports scientific projects that examine the causes, the development and treatment of cancers. For more information on the foundation go to

Further information:

Dr. Heiko Bruns
Phone: +49 (0)9131 85 43162

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