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Molecular & Cellular Analysis Technologies
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Immunotherapy of ovarian cancer represents an emerging modality for the treatment of patients with advanced disease. The majority of patients with disease spread beyond the ovaries initially respond to conventional therapy, but most will eventually relapse with chemo-resistant disease; recurrent ovarian cancer is generally incurable. Immune-based therapy represents a potentially effective strategy in the treatment of early relapse and residual disease. Unfortunately, a major obstacle to advancing the understanding of ovarian tumor immunity and the application of immunotherapeutic strategies for the treatment of patients with ovarian cancer has been the paucity of immunogenic target antigens. A rational and comprehensive evaluation of target antigens expressed by ovarian cancer cells would be desirable and would permit a molecular analysis of the profile of cancer cells from an immunologic perspective. Experimental hurdles associated with identifying T cell- defined antigens include: 1) the use of tumor cells (typically poor antigen presenting cells) as stimulator cells; 2) the difficulties associated with the isolation of tumor-reactive T cells; and 3) the identification of tumor antigens recognized by T cells. Each of these obstacles is addressed in turn through the application of emerging technologies developed in our laboratory and that of our collaborators. These have led to improved strategies for the generation of tumor-reactive antigen-specific T cells using opsonized tumor cell- derived antigens, the direct isolation of T cell clones and expansion for characterization and screening, and the use of a positional scanning synthetic combinatorial peptide libraries to identify T cell targets, and the use of high-throughput genetic screening to identify functionally enhancing altered peptide ligands. The results of these studies are expected to yield a diverse panel of well-defined tumor antigens that have been characterized for their immunogenicity, restricting allele, and prevalence of expression - features that factor into the consideration of candidate antigen targets for cellular immunotherapy. We anticipate that these studies will be essential for advancing research in understanding the immunobiology of ovarian cancer for tracking such responses in patients as a means of early detection and for targeting therapies by tumor vaccination or adoptive T cell therapy trials. Relevance of Research to Public Health (lay language): Most patients with ovarian cancer die of disease that is resistant to chemotherapy. The immune system may be used to treat patients with recurrent ovarian cancer. One of the major obstacles to this strategy is that very few targets are known which can be targeted by the immune system. We have developed a method to efficiently identify immune targets for ovarian cancer and enhance their ability to stimulate cancer immunity.