Lana Kandalaft, PhD
University Medical School, Lausanne (CHUV)
2019 Dearborn Family Pilot Study Award
Development of personalized cancer vaccination strategies in ovarian cancer
As ovarian cancer lacks specific symptoms, most patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage whereby treatment response is poor. One option for treatment is to activate the patient’s own immune system using individually tailored vaccines to fight off ovarian cancer. The immune system can be stimulated into action by antigens—substances present on the surface cells. As cancer cells divide rapidly, they accumulate many gene mutations along the way which can serve as antigens. These gene mutations can be unique to the patient (private neoantigens) or present in different patients with the same or different type of cancers (shared tumor antigens). Studies have shown that the unique, private neoantigens are more effective than shared tumor antigens in activating the immune system, resulting in complete tumor regression and long-term remission. Sophisticated genome-sequencing and algorithms are used for identifying tumor neoantigens that may be effective for a patient. However these procedures can take around 6 months and are unsuitable for advanced stage patients. To address this issue, Dr. Kandalaft will use a mouse model to investigate the feasibility of personalized vaccines. Personalized vaccines would comprise of a patient’s own dendritic cells and whole tumor tissue mixture prepared in the clinic, and then be infused into the patient to activate the immune system to seek out and kill cancer cells based on their tumor neoantigen expressions. The major advantage is that the patient’s whole tumor mixture can encompass all tumor neoantigens present in the cancer. Patients would be treated immediately with the vaccine without the need to identify neoantigens. The vaccine preparation method is straightforward and potentially useful in other cancer types as well.