Immunotherapy has proven highly effective, but only a subset of patients. We aim to make immunotherapy available for all patients through innovative early stage clinical trials and an in-depth characterisation of the immune response against cancer.

Immunotherapy, and in particular immune checkpoint blockade, has revolutionised the treatment of cancer. For responding patients, responses are often deep, durable and associated with meaningful improvement in quality of life. However, at present only a modest subset of patients respond to treatment with immune checkpoint blockade. A better understanding of how the immune system interacts with cancer cells will lead to new therapies and extend the benefit of immunotherapy to larger groups of patients.

Within the immuno-oncology group, we develop and apply novel immunotherapies to patients with gynaecological cancers. We study how both the immune system and the cancer cells respond to these treatments, and ‘back translate’ lessons learned to clinical trials. Our current work focuses on four main themes:

  • How the innate and adaptive immune system collaborate to improve immune responses against cancer
  • Whether therapeutic vaccination can be used to promote immune responses against ovarian and cervical cancer
  • Whether neo-adjuvant immunotherapy is a viable (fertility-sparing) treatment strategy for uterine cancer with a high-mutational burden
  • Whether non-invasive imaging by positron-emission tomography can be used to discriminate patients responding to immunotherapy



How our research benefits to society

Our achievements

We have initiated a number of clinical trials aimed at making immunotherapy work for our patients with gynaecological cancers. We have used the data from these trials to better understand why immunotherapy works for some, but not all patients. We are currently using this information to develop novel (combination) immunotherapies for our patients.

  • For our patients with ovarian cancer, we run two clinical trials that apply a therapeutic vaccine either in combination with chemotherapy (the OLIVIA trial) or after primary therapy to prevent disease recurrence (the ALISON trial). For our patients with a pre-malignant lesion of the cervix (so-called CIN lesions), we apply a therapeutic vaccine to induce CIN regression and prevent progression of the lesion to a cancerous state. For our patients with high-mutational load uterine cancer (the so-called MMRd and POLEmutant tumours), we apply immune checkpoint blockade therapy to induce regression of the lesions with the ultimate aim of developing a fertility-sparing treatment. For all our trials, the design and execution involves our stakeholders such as patient-advocacy organisation Olijf.

  • We study why the immune system fails to act on the presence of cancer cells in some patients, and whether new therapeutic targets can be identified to overcome this immune inhibition. For most of our work, we study gynaecological tumours and compare how different ‘drivers’ of immunity, such as mutations in uterine cancer and HPV in cervical cancer, differently or similarly shape the immune micro-environment. Where possible, we combine work on ex vivo human tumours with in vitro and in vivo model systems to establish causal relationships. We work in close collaboration with experts in pathology, genomics and machine-learning based analysis of immune responses.


Marco de Bruyn
Marco de Bruyn Postdoctoral researcher at the gynecological oncology
Hans Nijman
Hans Nijman Professor, Gynaecologist Oncologist

University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG)
Department of Obstetrics and Gyneacology
PO Box 30.001
9700 RB Groningen
The Netherlands

Visiting address
ressUniversity Medical Center Groningen (UMCG)
Department of Obstetrics and Gyneacology
Hanzeplein 1
9713 GZ Groningen