Circulating T-cells are the key players in our adaptive immune system and are particularly important for recognizing and killing cells that are infected with viruses or carry cancer-causing mutations. T-cells have the ability to potentially recognize vast numbers of different infectious agents and cancer- or tumour-associated mutations. The T-cell receptor, on the surface of the T-cell, is responsible for this task, and the variation required for recognition is generated mainly by shuffling the large number of short DNA segments that comprise T-cell receptor genes. Although the central importance of the T-cell receptor in adaptive immunity is well established, the actual number and diversity of T-cells that exist in an individual (i.e. the T-cell repertoire), how this changes in response to immune challenge, and how it varies from one individual to the next, remains a mystery. Dr. Rob Holt’s lab is using the latest DNA sequencing technologies to directly sequence T-cell receptor genes in order to examine the T-cell repertoire in a given blood sample. Using this approach, the lab has identified populations of unique T-cell repertoires in bone marrow stem cell transplant patients and in colorectal cancer patients. Dr. Kristoffer Palma’s research project is to take this approach one step further by developing a novel, high-throughput screen for the molecular patterns (antigens) recognized by donor T-cells and to find out how these are related to transplant success in bone marrow transplants. The second application of his research is to determine if there are T-cell receptor commonalities in patients with colorectal cancer tumours, how T-cell receptor commonalities relate to disease prognosis, and what tumour-associated antigens may be recognized by T-cells in patients with high survival rates. In the case of bone marrow transplants, Palma anticipates that his research will lead towards the earlier diagnosis and intervention in graft versus host disease, which is the most immediate and life-threatening complication of bone marrow transplant, affecting 30 to 80 per cent of patients. With regard to colorectal cancer, Palma hopes his research will contribute to the creation of a high-resolution diagnostic screening test to identify early stage cancer that would be undetectable with current assays and aid in the eventual development of cancer-specific vaccines.