Media Advisory

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Gene expression profile could enable rapid identification of anti-tumor immune cells for personalized immunotherapy


National Institutes of Health researchers, led by Dr. Steven Rosenberg, MD, Ph.D., chief of the Surgery Branch at the Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute (NCI), have found unique expression profiles in 50 genes that help identify rare anti-tumor lymphocytes that can infiltrate and help defeat metastatic solid epithelial tumors. To develop these profiles, a highly sensitive assay was designed that identified tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) with cell surface receptors that can recognize the products of the very mutations that caused the cancer. The identification of these lymphocytes could help advance the development and effectiveness of personalized cancer immunotherapies for patients whose cancers do not respond to standard treatments.

This finding in TILs is especially important because it is agnostic to the type of tumor a patient has – it seems to have promise in stomach, esophageal, ovarian and breast cancers, among other types of tumors.

Until now, to maximize the potential of TIL therapy, Rosenberg’s team had to look at every potential mutation in a tumor that could be a target. But after years of effort, the team developed this new assay that identifies the gene expression profiles of a few rare lymphocytes that recognize mutated cell surface proteins of cancerous cells, thereby negating the need for a mutation-by-mutation search.

Dr. Rosenberg pioneered the development of cell-based immunotherapy, a highly personalized form of cancer treatment that uses a person’s own immune system to fight tumor cells. His studies of the adoptive transfer of genetically modified immune cells have resulted in tumor shrinkage in patients with metastatic cancer.


“Molecular signatures of antitumor neoantigen-reactive T cells from metastatic human cancers” will appear on Feb. 3, 2022, in Science.


Dr. Steven Rosenberg, MD, Ph.D., chief of the Surgery Branch at the Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute

About the National Cancer Institute (NCI): NCI leads the National Cancer Program and NIH’s efforts to dramatically reduce the prevalence of cancer and improve the lives of cancer patients and their families, through research into prevention and cancer biology, the development of new interventions, and the training and mentoring of new researchers. For more information about cancer, please visit the NCI website at or call NCI’s contact center, the Cancer Information Service, at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).

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