Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2018

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Biology & Biomedical Sciences (Human & Statistical Genetics)

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



The human adaptive immune system is programmed to distinguish between self and non-self proteins and if trained to recognize markers unique to a cancer, it may be possible to stimulate the selective destruction of cancer cells. Therapeutic cancer vaccines aim to boost the immune system by selectively increasing the population of T cells specifically targeted to the tumor-unique antigens, thereby initiating cancer cell death.. In the past, this approach has primarily focused on targeted selection of ‘shared’ tumor antigens, found across many patients. The advent of massively parallel sequencing and specialized analytical approaches has enabled more efficient characterization of tumor-specific mutant antigens, or neoantigens. Specifically, methods to predict which tumor-specific mutant peptides (neoantigens) can elicit anti-tumor T cell recognition improve predictions of immune checkpoint therapy response and identify one or more neoantigens as targets for personalized vaccines. Selecting the best/most immunogenic neoantigens from a large number of mutations is an important challenge, in particular in cancers with a high mutational load, such as melanomas and smoker-associated lung cancers. To address such a challenging task, Chapter 1 of this thesis describes a genome-guided in silico approach to identifying tumor neoantigens that integrates tumor mutation and expression data (DNA- and RNA-Seq). The cancer vaccine design process, from read alignment to variant calling and neoantigen prediction, typically assumes that the genotype of the Human Reference Genome sequence surrounding each somatic variant is representative of the patient’s genome sequence, and does not account for the effect of nearby variants (somatic or germline) in the neoantigenic peptide sequence. Because the accuracy of neoantigen identification has important implications for many clinical trials and studies of basic cancer immunology, Chapter 2 describes and supports the need for patient-specific inclusion of proximal variants to address this previously oversimplified assumption in the identification of neoantigens. The method of neoantigen identification described in Chapter 1 was subsequently extended (Chapter 3) and improved by the addition of a modular workflow that aids in each component of the neoantigen prediction process from neoantigen identification, prioritization, data visualization, and DNA vaccine design. These chapters describe massively parallel sequence analysis methods that will help in the identification and subsequent refinement of patient-specific antigens for use in personalized immunotherapy.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Elaine Malachi R. Mardis Griffith

Committee Members

Beatriz M. Carreno, William E. Gillanders, Robert D. Schreiber, S J. Swamidass,


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/x93y-a563