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Molecular Oncology & Immunology: Pia Kvistborg, Ph.D.

Kvistborg, Pia

Pia Kvistborg, Ph.D.Junior Group Leader

About Pia Kvistborg

Research interest: Cancer Immunology

Importantly, in spite of the recent major successes of immunotherapy, only part of the treated patients responds to therapy and many patients relapse after initial responsiveness. It is likely that in some cases such resistance is caused by tumor cell-intrinsic properties (e.g. loss of MHC expression or lack of antigens). However, differences in the level of T cell (dys)functionality between patients (and malignancies) is likely to form a second factor.  Because of this, we consider it plausible that patients that are unresponsive to current immunotherapy strategies could benefit from novel combination strategies, including both different types of combination immunotherapy, but also combinations of immunotherapies with conventional therapy. To allow this, it is of key importance to understand how the T cell compartment is composed in different malignancies, and how different anti-cancer therapies influence this T cell compartment.

The overall goal of the Kvistborg lab is to understand how anti-cancer therapies influences tumor-specific T cells. The key therapies we are investigating are 1) checkpoint targeting therapies, a still novel class of anti-cancer drugs that with recent major clinical success have entered center stage in oncology; and 2) conventional therapy, such as chemotherapy, that is standard of care for a high number of malignancies, and of which it is well possible that part of its effect is mediated via T cell immunity.

Checkpoint targeting therapies

Checkpoint targeting therapies, in particular anti-PD-1, have recently reached center stage in oncology treatment. Clinical trials with anti-PD-1 and anti-PD-L1 antibodies have already shown objective responses in multiple malignancies. However, in spite of these recent major successes, the number of long-term survivors still remains limited and many patients do not respond or relapse after initial responsiveness. Importantly, this new class of drugs causes serious adverse events in up to half of treated patients. Because of these limitations, the discovery of T cell signatures and biomarkers that can predict whether tumor-specific T cells will be re-activated by this therapy will be important to help understand which patients are most likely to benefit. While it is likely that in some cases therapy resistance is caused by tumor cell-intrinsic properties, recent data in lung cancer suggest that unresponsiveness can also be due to varying levels of T cell exhaustion. We are assessing the qualitative changes in tumor-specific T cells that are caused by checkpoint targeting therapy. 

Conventional anti-cancer therapies

Chemotherapy is first line standard of care for the vast majority of malignancies. Tumor regression based on this type of therapy can result in release of tumor antigens, disruption of the tumor structure and alterations the composition of the tumor microenvironment potentially making the tumor more 'visible' to the immune system. Furthermore, in a recent study it was shown that standard of care chemotherapy (carboplatin and paclitaxel) for cervical cancer patients resulted in an increase in virus-specific T cells, and importantly, increased proliferative capacity of the T cells. This effect may at least in part be due to depletion of immune suppressive cell subsets including myeloid derived suppressor cells. These findings strongly indicate that chemotherapy can influence the quality of T cells and it is crucial to understand what qualitative alterations chemotherapy can have on the clinically relevant T cells, and what classes of chemotherapeutic drugs that may have such an effect.


Gangaev, Anastasia

Anastasia Gangaev

Ph.D. student


I completed my bachelor studies in Molecular Biology at the JGU (Mainz, Germany). During that time, I worked as a student assistant at the BionTech AG (Mainz) where I gained in depth insights into the development of cancer immune therapeutics. In 2016, I obtained my master's degree in Biomedical Science with the focus on Advanced Microscopy and Cell Biology at the UvA. My strong interest in cell biology and cancer immunology led to my training as an intern at the Karolinska Institutet (Stockholm), Sanquin and the NKI.

In October 2016, I started my PhD in the newly established group of Pia Kvistborg. Our aim is to investigate how cancer therapies such as checkpoint blockade or chemotherapy alter the quality of tumor specific T cells in patients.

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Hoefakker, Kelly

Kelly Hoefakker



In 2018, I obtained my master's degree in Life Science and Technology at Leiden University. During my training as an intern at Sanquin, I studied the mechanism of HLA-I antigen presentation.

After my graduation, I joined the group of Pia Kvistborg as a research technician. My work is mainly focused on the effect of the ribosomal subset on antigen presentation and immune interactions in the tumor microenvironment.

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Isaeva, Olga

Olga Isaeva

Ph.D. student


I am a motivated cancer immunologist, looking to apply computational methods to tumor microenvironment data.

I obtained my BSc in Cell Biology from Moscow State University and my MSc in Bioinformatics from Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology. During my MSc studies I did an internship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Also, for three years I worked as a research analyst for a cancer immunology start-up, BostonGene.

At the NKI I work in the groups of Dr. Pia Kvistborg, Dr. Marleen Kok and Dr. Lodewyk Wessels, exploring functional changes in tumor microenvironment and transformed cells during tumor progression and in response to therapy.

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Ketelaars, Steven

Steven Ketelaars MSc

Ph.D. student


In 2017 I graduated cum laude from Wageningen University with a master's degree in Medical Biotechnology. During the last year of my master's I enrolled at the University of Copenhagen to more comprehensively study immunology, and followed this up with an internship in the group of Henrik Ditzel at the University of Southern Denmark, where I investigated the regulation of CD73 in breast cancer. After my graduation, I joined the newly established group of Pia Kvistborg as a PhD student. My project focuses on investigating the potential immunodominance hierarchy of neoantigens and how to use this knowledge to improve the anti-tumor response.

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Patiwael, Sanne

Sanne Patiwael



In September 2018, I started as a technician in the group of Pia Kvistborg. Our main focus is to investigate how cancer therapies, such as radiotherapy and checkpoint blockade influences tumor-specific T cells.

In the department I'm the main responsible of the generation of peptide-MHC complexes. In addition to this I'm also responsible for the collection, processing and storage of tumor material from patients.

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Recent publications View All Publications

  • The cancer antigenome.

    EMBO J. 2013 Jan 23;32(2):194-203.

    Heemskerk B, Kvistborg P, Schumacher TN.

    Link to Pubmed
  • TIL therapy broadens the tumor-reactive CD8(+) T cell compartment in melanoma patients.

    Oncoimmunology. 2012 Jul 1;1(4):409-418.

    Kvistborg P, Shu CJ, Heemskerk B, Fankhauser M, Thrue CA, Toebes M, van Rooij N, Linnemann C, van Buuren MM, Urbanus JH, Beltman JB, Thor Straten P, Li YF, Robbins PF, Besser MJ, Schachter J, Kenter GG, Dudley ME, Rosenberg SA, Haanen JB, Hadrup SR, Schumacher TN.

    Link to Pubmed


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    Stephanie Timmer

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    0031 20 512 2099


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