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One reason personalized cancer vaccines have such high potential is because they are tailored to each patient’s tumor-specific mutations. The problem is we don’t have a reliable way to identify which mutated markers—known as neoantigens—make the best targets for vaccines. Recently, my team and I contemplated a possible solution: rather than just predicting the presence of neoantigens, what if we developed a tool that directly detected these mutated markers from a biopsy sample—thereby eliminating guesswork?
I will use my BroadIgnite award to investigate whether ultrasensitive mass spectrometry—which identifies molecules based on their mass and unique fragmentation patterns—can also identify neoantigens in tumor samples collected in biopsies. I will examine samples from melanoma patients at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute with a variety of mass spectrometry methods, experimenting with differences in sample preparation technique, speed, resolution, and reliability. These improvements could potentially be used in clinical trials, helping to identify the best targets for personalized vaccines.