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Title: The clonal architecture and tumour microenvironment of breast cancers are shaped by neoadjuvant chemotherapy
Author: Sammut, Stephen John
ISNI:       0000 0004 7651 4980
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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Neoadjuvant chemotherapy has become standard practice in patients with high-risk early breast cancer as it improves rates of breast conservation surgery and enables prediction of recurrence and survival by using response to treatment as a surrogate. Previous studies have focused on generating molecular datasets to develop prediction models of response, though little is known on how tumours and their microenvironments are modulated by neoadjuvant chemotherapy. The thesis aims at molecularly characterising tumour changes during neoadjuvant chemotherapy in a cohort of 168 patients. Serial tumour samples at diagnosis, and, when available, midway through chemotherapy and on completion of treatment were profiled by shallow whole genome sequencing, deep exome sequencing and transcriptome sequencing, resulting in the generation of an unprecedented genomics dataset with tumours in situ while patients received chemotherapy. Molecular predictors of response to chemotherapy were inferred from the diagnostic biopsy. Several novel observations were made, including previously undescribed associations between copy number alterations, mutational genotypes, neoantigen load, HLA genotypes and intra-tumoural heterogeneity with chemosensitivity. Possible mechanisms of chemoresistance included LOH at the MHC Class I locus, decreased expression of MHC Class I and II genes and drug influx molecules, as well as increased expression of drug efflux pumps. A complex relationship between proliferation, tumour microenvironment composition (TME) and response to treatment was explored by deconvoluting bulk RNAseq data and performing digital pathology orthogonal validation. Clonal and microenvironment dynamic changes induced by/associated with chemotherapy were then modelled. Two types of genomic responses were identified, one in which the clonal composition was stable throughout treatment and another where clonal emergence and/or extinction was evident. Validation by multi-region deep sequencing confirmed the dynamics of the clonal landscape. Clonal emergence was shown to be associated with higher proliferation and decreased immune infiltrate, with an increase in genomic instability and homologous recombination deficiency during treatment. The immune TME composition and activity mirrored response to treatment, with cytolytic activity and innate and adaptive immune infiltrates linearly correlating with the degree of residual disease remaining after chemotherapy. Finally, the circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) genomic landscape was explored by using shallow whole genome sequencing and targeted sequencing of plasma DNA. Tumour mutations detected on exome sequencing were also detected in ctDNA in plasma, supporting the use of liquid biopsies as a biomarker for monitoring response to therapy and detection of minimal residual disease.
Supervisor: Caldas, Carlos Sponsor: Wellcome Trust
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Neoadjuvant chemotherapy ; breast cancer ; clonal evolution ; drug resistance