Research Projects
Immunopeptidomics of Epstein-Barr Virus-Positive Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma to Identify Neoantigens

Programme(s) to which this project applies:

☒ MPhil/PhD ☑ MRes[Med] ☒ URIS

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is a multifactorial epithelial malignancy associated with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection, host genetics, and environmental factors. According to statistics from Hong Kong Cancer Registry, in males, NPC is the 6th most common cancer with incidence rates of 18.2 per 100,000, and is the 9th leading cause of cancer death in 2017. As it often occurs in middle-aged males, this deadly disease has become a severe health issue and has heavy financial burdens for medical care in Hong Kong. It is reported that 15%-58% of cases do not respond well to conventional treatments, resulting in poor clinical outcomes. Therefore, new treatment strategy is urgently needed for these patients.

Recently, cancer immunotherapy has attracted much attention as a treatment strategy for advanced NPC. In addition to immune checkpoint inhibitors, neoantigen-based personalized vaccines have also shown promising results for cancers treatment. Neoantigens were originally defined as a class of antigens that are derived from tumour-specific mutations. Neoantigen immunotherapy stimulates the patient’s own immune system against these neoantigens to recognize and eliminate the cancer cells.

In this project, we expect to blueprint neoantigens derived from somatic mutations in NPC by an integrative WES data analysis. The utility of somatic mutations as putative tumour neoantigens will be evaluated in terms of peptide expression and binding affinity with MHC molecules. We will evaluate the feasibility of performing the immunopeptidomic study in NPC and identify the potential effective neoantigens. Identification of effective neoantigens will help us understand the mechanisms underlying tumour development. The study will also provide a new treatment strategy for NPC by identifying more effective neoantigens as therapeutic targets. Designing anti-cancer vaccines based on these neoantigens can be an effective immunotherapy, especially for those who do not respond well to the conventional treatments. Therefore, the findings from this study will be valuable for both basic research and clinical applications.

Dr W Dai, Department of Clinical Oncology 

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For more information or to express interest for this project, please email the supervisor or the specified contact point in the project description.  Interested candidates are advised to enclose with your email:

  1. your CV,
  2. a brief description of your research interest and experience, and
  3. two reference letters (not required for HKUMed UG students seeking MRes[Med]/URIS projects).

Information on the research programme, funding support and admission documentations could be referenced online at the Research Postgraduate Admissions website. General admission enquiries should be directed to

HKUMed MBBS students interested in the Master of Research in Medicine (MRes[Med]) programme may visit the programme website for more information.  

HKUMed UG students interested in the Undergraduate Research Internship Scheme (URIS) may visit the scheme’s website for more information.