Unravelling the rules for T cell recognition of cancer epitopes – Prof. David Gfeller

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This “allocated fund” was granted to Prof. David Gfeller in July 2024 for one year.

T cells play a crucial role in cancer immunotherapy by targeting and attacking cancer cells. They do so by recognizing specific molecules, called epitopes, displayed on cancer cells but not on normal cells. To maximize the chances of detecting the wide variety of epitopes found across cancer patients, different T cells are endowed with different receptors. T cell receptors recognizing cancer epitopes are promising for therapeutic applications, since T cells can be engineered to express these receptors and infused into patients.

Today, it is increasingly possible to identify the various T cell receptors and the epitopes present in a tumor. However, figuring out which T cell recognizes which epitope is still very challenging. 

In our project, we will combine experimental and computational methods to characterize the recognition of cancer epitopes by T cell receptors. We then aim to develop AI models that can analyze large collections of T cell receptors from patients, in order to identify the most promising ones for clinical use. These results will complement ongoing research at the Department of Oncology and elsewhere, and help accelerate and streamline current pipelines to prioritize T cell receptor selection for T cell-based therapy.