Immunotherapy and Personalized Vaccine
Erica Ollmann Saphire (LJI)
David Schlaepfer (UCSD)
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, before humans evolved from primates, another pandemic caused by viruses occurred. This pandemic was caused by retroviruses, which are viruses that can insert their own genetic information into the DNA of their hosts. Around 8% of human DNA is the remnant of viral genetic material from these ancient infections. These DNA remnants are called human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs). Endogenous means that these bits of viral DNA are now a stable part of our genetic make-up. These retroviral sequences were long thought to be silent ‘junk’ DNA, but recent research has uncovered the potential for these viral genes to start producing proteins in disease states, such as in cancer or autoimmune disease. For example, in ovarian cancer, researchers have seen that some retroviral proteins stud the surface of ovarian cancer tissues and ovarian cancer cells. In a mouse model of ovarian cancer, a monoclonal antibody treatment targeting a HERV protein slowed tumor growth. According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States. However, there are few new treatments or diagnostic tools for ovarian cancer. This project will approach HERV proteins as targets for drug discovery, with a focus on developing novel monoclonal antibodies to be used either to diagnose or treat ovarian cancer.