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Research Highlight | May 27, 2020

Promising new antigens found in non-coding ovarian cancer DNA may provide clues for therapeutic vaccine

Ovarian cancer researchers in Montreal are hoping newly found molecules might be used to create vaccines for patients with an aggressive form of the disease.

According to a recent paper published in Cancer Immunology Research (February 2020), these molecules, known as tumour-specific antigens (TSAs), were identified in the non-coding region of ovarian cancer DNA. TSAs are molecules present in cancer cells that elicit a response from the immune system.

“Until now, scientists have been searching for clues as to how best treat cancers by looking at the small part of our DNA believed to code for proteins, which is only 2 per cent of our DNA,” says Dr. Claude Perreault, an immunologist at the University of Montreal’s Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) who led the partially-funded TFRI team. “We looked at the other 98 per cent and found a number of new TSAs that were coded by allegedly non-coding DNA.”

It is believed that they could be harnessed to create vaccines that stimulate the immune system to fight off cancer cells.

While scientists have uncovered TSAs for ovarian cancers before, these have proven to be ineffective, as they tend to only exist in singular tumours. By using a method called mass spectrometry and advanced computer modeling, Dr. Perreault’s team uncovered 103 new TSAs. Some were present across all samples, making them ideal targets for further research.

“The fact that a limited number of TSAs could cover almost all patients with ovarian cancer means that it may be possible to create an off-the-shelf therapeutic vaccine with these TSAs,” says Dr. Perreault.


Proteogenomics uncovers a vast repertoire of shared tumor-specific antigens in ovarian cancer


Qingchuan Zhao, Jean-Philippe Laverdure, Joël Lanoix, Chantal Durette, Caroline Côté, Éric Bonneil, Céline M. Laumont, Patrick Gendron, Krystel Vincent, Mathieu Courcelles, Sébastien Lemieux, Douglas G. Millar, Pamela S. Ohashi, Pierre Thibault, Claude Perreault


This study was partly funded by a Terry Fox Translational Program Grant to the Immunotherapy Network (iTNT)