Scientific Research Project Title

Deep characterization of tumor-immune system interaction for immunotherapy-based precision medicine treatment of breast cancer

Research Institution

Technical University of Denmark

RESEARCH FIELD

Bioinformatics, immunology, oncology

CONTACT INFO

E-mail: lro@bioinformatics.dtu.dk

 

Research leader

Lars Rønn Olsen

Associate Professor, PhD, born 1983

Project title

Predicting the efficacy of immunotherapy against breast cancer

What is your project about?

Cancer immunotherapy is treatment that activates the body’s immune system to identify and clear cancerous cells. At least two criteria must be fulfilled to ensure the efficacy of immunotherapy. Firstly, the cancer cells must be sufficiently different from the healthy cells of the body for the immune system to recognize them, and secondly the patient’s immune system must be competent to be activated against them. This means that some patients stand to benefit from the treatment, while others do not. In this project, I will leverage technologies such DNA and RNA sequencing and single cell mass cytometry to investigate whether the two criterions are fulfilled in a group of 2500 breast cancer patients, and create the scientific basis for immunotherapeutic precision treatment of the disease in Denmark.

How did you become interested in your particular field of research?

My interest in immunological bioinformatics was piqued when I participated in a course on the topic during my Master’s degree at DTU. My interest in the application of bioinformatics on immunology and oncology research arose when I wrote my Master’s thesis at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and evolved to an actual specialization during my postdoctoral research at University of Oxford and Stanford University. During this time, I developed a passion for the complexities, but also the possibilities of the interaction between cancer cells and the immune system as a research discipline. 

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project?

Both tumors and the immune system are highly heterogenous systems, which prevents the definition of simple biomarkers for result of interaction between the two – including the response to immunotherapy. The development of sequencing and single cell technologies has enabled deep profiling of both systems, and the challenge that remains is to identify the patterns in their interaction that can be correlated with treatment outcome. Insofar as these are successfully identified, it will pave the way for the clinical application of cancer immunotherapy against all susceptible cancer patients.

What is your estimate of the impact, which your project may have to society in the long term?

Breast cancer claims the lives of more than 1,000 people each year in Denmark alone. Promising results have been achieved with immunotherapy against several different cancers, but it is currently not applied in first line of treatment against breast cancer. The potential for the treatment against breast cancer is huge, if susceptible patients can be accurately identified. In the long term, it is my goal to expand the technology to predict the effecacy of immunotherapy against all cancers.

Which impact do you expect the Sapere Aude programme will have on your career as a researcher?

The Sapere Aude programme provides me with the freedom to immerse myself in a field of research that is relatively uncharted in Denmark. Receving the Sapere Aude: DFF-Research Talent provided me with the opportunity to visit and work with the world’s leading experts in the topic at Stanford University. Through this visit, I developed fantastic network of collaborators, which, along with recieving the Sapere Aude: DFF-Starting Grant has resulted in the realization of this research project.

Background and personal life

My inquisitive nature has lead me to visit far far off corners of the world – both as a researcher and an explorer, and out the last 15 years I have spent almost 5 years abroad. In my spare time I have been an avid ultra runner and free diver, but these days I devote the majority of my time to my wonderful family. Whenever the opportunity arises, I enjoy music, literature, and good coffee.

City of current residence
Copenhagen

High school
Køge Handelsskole