Several lines of evidence suggest that the immune system may play an important role in ovarian cancer, including recent research showing that ovarian cancer patients with T lymphocytes infiltrating their tumor have a better prognosis than those without such cells. The aim of immunologic therapy for cancer is to augment the body’s natural response to cancer, and to overcome the immunosuppressive effects a tumor uses to escape recognition and destruction by the immune system. Immunologic approaches such as vaccines and adoptive immunotherapy, in which specific T cells are expanded in large numbers in the laboratory and then reinfused into a patient, require the identification of tumor associated antigens which can be recognized by lymphocytes.
Until recently, very few ovarian cancer associated antigens were known. However, new methods, such as DNA microarrays, have suggested several possible new target antigens. One of these candidate antigens is Mesothelin, a cell surface protein found in approximately 90 percent of epithelial ovarian cancers. In this project, Dr. Hunder plans to evaluate Mesothelin as a target for immunotherapy by determining if T lymphocytes can be generated that recognize Mesothelin, and can kill ovarian cancer cells. She also plan to use a new technique, RNA transfection of antigen presenting cells, to broaden this type of therapy to include patients with different HLA types, or white blood cell types.