Dr. Nathalie Rufer received her PhD from the University of Geneva in 1996. She carried out her post-doctoral work at the Terry Fox Laboratory in Vancouver (Canada) before joining in 2001, the Swiss Institute for Cancer Research (ISREC) as an associate scientist within the Lausanne Oncology program. Since 2009, she has been appointed by the Lausanne University Hospital Center (CHUV), and affiliated to the Ludwig Center for Cancer Research. In 2012, Nathalie Rufer finished her full education in clinical medicine at the University of Lausanne and joined the Department of Oncology led by Prof. George Coukos. Since January 2013, she is extending her research activities together with her clinical education in internal medicine, in oncology and currently in hematology.
The Rufer lab studies T cell responses against tumor antigens in cancer patients following therapeutic vaccination and naturally occurring immune responses, with the major goals to advance our knowledge of T cell mediated protection from human disease and to improve T cell based therapy in the fight against cancer. Three aspects of T cell-mediated immunity are of prime interest to us; (i) the identification of T cell attributes (e.g. memory versus effector) following immune-based therapy in cancer patients, (ii) the T cell clonotype repertoire and its persistence over time against cancer and chronic infection with herpes viruses, and (iii) TCR-pMHC binding interactions and structure/function relationships of tumor- and virus-specific CD8 T cell clonotypes combined with novel technologies (i.e. NTAmers). Another main focus of our team lies in the development of adoptive cell transfer strategies using engineered T cells. Specifically, we are investigating on approaches to optimize the TCRs with the aim to increase their affinities to cognate tumor antigens, while characterizing the regulatory mechanisms involved in T cell activation, signaling and subsequent function in those TCR-engineered T cells. Understanding TCR-pMHC affinity-mediated regulations and identifying optimized tumor antigen-specific TCRs directly contributes to the rational development of adoptive cell therapy.