A NEW discovery by researchers in Southampton could lead to early detection and treatment of Lymphoma.

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system and is said to be the fifth most common cancer and the most common blood cancer with over 14,000 people diagnosed with it each year in the UK.

Now though, research led by the University of Southampton has revealed a new fundamental feature of aggressive B-cell lymphomas which researchers say, could open the door to further research into early detection and treatment of the disease.

B cells are part of the human body’s immune system and are responsible for producing antibodies; they display an antibody-like molecule on their surface, known as the B-cell receptor.

Led by Professor of Haematology at the University of Southampton, Francesco Forconi, the research team identified a tumour-specific change, not seen in normal B cells.

The new findings have shown how receptors can differ in aggressive lymphomas by the presence of unusual sugars, known as glycans, in the antigen-binding sites of the lymphoma B-cell receptor.

The team now say that these glycans have a specific structure that allow the lymphoma cells to receive signals from molecules called “lectins”, which are attached to surrounding cells, enabling the tumour to survive and grow.

The findings have been published in Blood, the Journal of the American Society of Haematology and Professor Forconi said: “This very exciting team-work describes the structure of the glycans covering the surface of the tumour’s B-cell receptor and how it works.

"It is a remarkable tumour-specific feature required by all the tumour cells of patients with the most common lymphomas. This is a new specificity required by the lymphoma cells to survive which we now know how to detect and are learning how it functions.

"Our findings are paving the way to further investigations, including early cancer detection and therapeutic targeting, both of which will be our future goals”.

The study was funded by Blood Cancer UK charity and the Keanu Eyles Fellowship and now researchers say that the next steps will be to precisely target the interactions between these glycans and the lectins by therapeutic antibodies.