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Identification of neo-antigens to fight cancer


Small cancer cell proteins called neoantigens trigger the immune system and are key for the design of new cancer immunotherapy treatments, the Annals of Oncology discusses their prediction and clinical applications

The immune system is constantly on alert so that nothing is out of the ordinary and protects us from any foreign element trying to circulate in our body. There are situations in which cancer cells undergo mutations that lead to the production of small proteins considered strange by our immune system. These aberrant proteins, called neo-antigens, set off alarms and force the body to start fighting the cancer. Today, the prestigious journal Annals of Oncology publishes an article that puts into context the use of neo-antigens for cancer immunotherapy and the techniques available to predict and identify them, along with recommendations provided by the European Society for Medical Oncology's Precision Medicine working group.

"This article, carried out by some of the best oncologists, bioinformaticians and immunologists from all over the world, allows us to have an overview of all the work done in the field of neo-antigens, an area with great potential for the fight against cancer", explains Leticia De Mattos-Arruda, first author of the article and principal investigator of the Neo-antigens and Therapeutic Cancer Vaccines group at IrsiCaixa. In order to detect these small proteins, researchers look for the mutations that have led to their production. To achieve this, there are next generation sequencing techniques that allow them to read the genetic code of each patient and identify these mutations, accumulating huge amounts of information that require a detailed analysis to organize the data and select the most relevant ones. "All this requires very fast and potent tools that allow us to work with all this data and obtain results at an affordable speed for the patient," details De Mattos-Arruda.

The identification of these neo-antigens provides researchers with a way to activate the immune system and fight cancer. "Together with De Mattos-Arruda we are working on the development of vaccines based on neo-antigens", explains Julià Blanco, principal investigator of the Cell Virology and Immunology group at IrsiCaixa and one of the authors of the article.

"We are on the way to precision immunotherapy, a more personalized medicine in which we can determine which neo-antigens each person has in order to direct their defenses against the cancer cells that are producing them," concludes De Mattos-Arruda.

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