Michael A. Coppola, PhD
Sperm-specific proteins as immunotherapeutic and diagnostic agents in various types of cancer
The fields of reproductive biology and cancer immunology intersected with the identification of the Cancer-Testis (CT) antigens. These are proteins that are normally present only in the testis, but also found in a variety of histologically distinct neoplasms. Although the mechanisms by which the genes encoding CT antigens are dysregulated and the roles of these proteins in tumorigenesis remain poorly understood, their immunogenicity is well established, and they are among the most promising targets for immunotherapeutic approaches to the treatment of melanoma and other cancers. Because many proteins present in the testis and in sperm are not expressed until the onset of puberty they would not be expected to induce immunological tolerance and should be useful targets for recognition by the immune system when they are expressed in tumors. In collaboration with Drs. John Herr and Charles Flickinger, this laboratory investigates the expression of normally sperm-specific proteins in various types of cancer. The proteins identified through this approach may find utility as vaccine targets for tumor immunotherapy, as diagnostic and/or prognostic markers for early detection or staging of cancer or the monitoring of tumor progression or response to therapy, and as pharmacologic targets for the design of small molecule antagonists. The immunotherapeutic potential of CT antigens is investigated in collaboration with Drs. Kevin Hogan and Craig Slingluff. A collaboration with Drs. David Jones and Heidi Gillenwater studied the potential use of seminal vesicle specific antigen (SVSA), which is ectopically expressed in a high percentage of small cell lung cancers (SCLC), as a diagnostic and/or prognostic marker for this disease.