Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Patrick Hwu, MD

Committee Member

Laszlo Radvanyi, PhD

Committee Member

Ralph Freedman, MD, PhD

Committee Member

Kimberly Schluns, PhD

Committee Member

Willem Overwijk, PhD


Treatment of metastatic melanoma with tumor reactive T cells (adoptive T cell therapy, ACT) is a promising approach associated with a high clinical response rate. However, further optimization of this treatment modality is required to increase the clinical response after this therapy. ACT in melanoma involves an initial phase (pre-REP) of tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) expansion ex vivo from tumor isolates followed by a second phase, “rapid expansion protocol” (REP) generating the billions of cells used as the TIL infusion product. The main question addressed in this thesis was how the currently used REP affected the responsiveness of the CD8+ T cells to defined melanoma antigens. We hypothesized that the REP drives the TIL to further differentiate and become hyporesponsive to antigen restimulation, therefore, proper cytokine treatment or other ways to expand TIL is required to improve upon this outcome.

We evaluated the response of CD8+ TIL to melanoma antigen restimulation using MART-1 peptide-pulsed mature DC in vitro. Post-REP TILs were mostly hypo-responsive with poor proliferation and higher apoptosis. Phenotypic analysis revealed that the expression of CD28 was significantly reduced in post-REP TILs. By sorting experiment and microarray analysis, we confirmed that the few CD28+ post-REP TILs had superior survival capacity and proliferated after restimulation. We then went on to investigate methods to maintain CD28 expression during the REP and improve TIL responsiveness. Firstly, IL-15 and IL-21 were found to synergize in maintaining TIL CD28 expression and antigenic responsiveness during REP. Secondly, we found IL-15 was superior as compared to IL-2 in supporting the long-term expansion of antigen-specific CD8+ TIL after restimulation.

These results suggest that current expansion protocols used for adoptive T-cell therapy in melanoma yield largely hyporesponsive products containing CD8+ T cells unable to respond in vivo to re-stimulation with antigen. A modification of our current approaches by using IL-15+IL-21 as supporting cytokines in the REP, or/and administration of IL-15 instead of IL-2 after TIL infusion, may enhance the anti-tumor efficacy and long-term persistence of infused T cells in vivo.


adoptive T cell therapy, rapid expansion protocol, TIL, memory, IL-2, IL-15, IL-21



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