Publications by authors named "Katja Ursic"

11 Publications

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Mutational burden, MHC-I expression and immune infiltration as limiting factors for in situ vaccination by TNFα and IL-12 gene electrotransfer.

Bioelectrochemistry 2021 Aug 28;140:107831. Epub 2021 Apr 28.

Department of Experimental Oncology, Institute of Oncology Ljubljana, Zaloska cesta 2, SI-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia; Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ljubljana, Zdravstvena pot 5, SI-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia.

In situ vaccination is a promising immunotherapeutic approach, where various local ablative therapies are used to induce an immune response against tumor antigens that are released from the therapy-killed tumor cells. We recently proposed using intratumoral gene electrotransfer for concomitant transfection of a cytotoxic cytokine tumor necrosis factor-α (TNFα) to induce in situ vaccination, and an immunostimulatory cytokine interleukin 12 (IL-12) to boost the primed immune response. Here, our aim was to test the local and systemic effectiveness of the approach in tree syngeneic mouse tumor models and associate it with tumor immune profiles, characterized by tumor mutational burden, immune infiltration and expression of PD-L1 and MHC-I on tumor cells. While none of the tested characteristic proved predictive for local effectiveness, high tumor mutational burden, immune infiltration and MHC-I expression were associated with higher abscopal effectiveness. Hence, we have confirmed that both the abundance and presentation of tumor antigens as well as the absence of immunosuppressive mechanisms are important for effective in situ vaccination. These findings provide important indications for future development of in situ vaccination based treatments, and for the selection of tumor types that will most likely benefit from it.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bioelechem.2021.107831DOI Listing
August 2021

High spatial resolution imaging of cisplatin and Texas Red cisplatin in tumour spheroids using laser ablation isotope dilution inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and confocal fluorescence microscopy.

Anal Chim Acta 2021 Jun 20;1162:338424. Epub 2021 Mar 20.

Department of Environmental Sciences, Jožef Stefan Institute, Jamova 39, 1000, Ljubljana, Slovenia; Jožef Stefan International Postgraduate School, Jamova 39, 1000, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Electronic address:

Oncology research uses different imaging techniques to provide information about the spatial distribution of the chemotherapy drugs used for the targeted tissues. Among them, laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) is increasingly being used to track the spatial distribution of metal-based chemotherapeutics in different tissue samples. In this investigation, instrumental parameters were optimized for the bioimaging of Pt in HT29 tumour spheroids treated with cisplatin (CDDP) or Texas Red cisplatin (TR-CDDP) using LA-ICP-MS. A high spatial resolution, using pixel dimensions of 2.0 μm × 2.5 μm, and a high sensitivity, with the limits of detection (LOD) better than 0.78 mg kg Pt, was achieved. Matrix-matched gelatine standards and/or isotope dilution (ID) analyses were used to quantify the amount of Pt. Differences between the results of the Pt concentrations determined by the two quantification were less than 4%. The results of the LA analysis revealed that the Pt in the CDDP-treated tumour spheroids was localized primarily in the outer rim of the spheroids and to a lesser extent in the intermediary layer and the necrotic core. Due to the steric effects, significantly lower Pt concentrations were accumulated in the spheroids treated with TR-CDDP (2.2 times lower than in CDDP-treated spheroids, normalized to the spheroid volume), while the Pt was mostly distributed in the areas of the outer rim. Finally, imaging with confocal fluorescence microscopy, which is commonly used in oncology research, was compared with that by LA-ICP-MS. The results of the two complementary techniques demonstrated good agreement in terms of the spatial distribution of the TR-CDDP, while the intensity of the fluorescence matched well with the concentrations of Pt determined with LA-ICP-MS.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.aca.2021.338424DOI Listing
June 2021

Biological factors of the tumour response to electrochemotherapy: Review of the evidence and a research roadmap.

Eur J Surg Oncol 2021 Mar 11. Epub 2021 Mar 11.

Department of Surgery, Colorectal and Peritoneal Oncology Centre, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester, M20 4BX, UK. Electronic address:

The beneficial effects of electrochemotherapy (ECT) for superficial tumours and, more recently, deep-seated malignancies in terms of local control and quality of life are widely accepted. However, the variability in responses across histotypes needs to be explored. Currently, patient selection for ECT is based on clinical factors (tumour size, histotype, and exposure to previous oncological treatments), whereas there are no biomarkers to predict the response to treatment. In this field, two major areas of investigation can be identified, i.e., tumour cell characteristics and the tumour microenvironment (vasculature, extracellular matrix, and immune infiltrate). For each of these areas, we describe the current knowledge and discuss how to foster further investigation. This review aims to provide a summary of the currently used guiding clinical factors and delineates a research roadmap for future studies to identify putative biomarkers of response to ECT. These biomarkers may allow researchers to improve ECT practice by customising treatment parameters, manipulating the tumour and its microenvironment, and exploring novel therapeutic combinations.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ejso.2021.03.229DOI Listing
March 2021

Potentiation of electrochemotherapy effectiveness by immunostimulation with IL-12 gene electrotransfer in mice is dependent on tumor immune status.

J Control Release 2021 Apr 8;332:623-635. Epub 2021 Mar 8.

Department of Experimental Oncology, Institute of Oncology Ljubljana, Zaloska cesta 2, SI-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia; Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ljubljana, Zdravstvena pot 5, SI-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia. Electronic address:

Electrochemotherapy (ECT) exhibits high therapeutic effectiveness in the clinic, achieving up to 80% local tumor control but without a systemic (abscopal) effect. Therefore, we designed a combination therapy consisting of ECT via intratumoral application of bleomycin, oxaliplatin or cisplatin with peritumoral gene electrotransfer of a plasmid encoding interleukin-12 (p. t. IL-12 GET). Our hypothesis was that p. t. IL-12 GET potentiates the effect of ECT on local and systemic levels and that the potentiation varies depending on tumor immune status. Therefore, the combination therapy was tested in three immunologically different murine tumor models. In poorly immunogenic B16F10 melanoma, IL-12 potentiated the antitumor effect of ECT with biologically equivalent low doses of cisplatin, oxaliplatin or bleomycin. The most pronounced potentiation was observed after ECT using cisplatin, resulting in a complete response rate of 38% and an abscopal effect. Compared to B16F10 melanoma, better responsiveness to ECT was observed in more immunogenic 4 T1 mammary carcinoma and CT26 colorectal carcinoma. In both models, p. t. IL-12 GET did not significantly improve the therapeutic outcome of ECT using any of the chemotherapeutic drugs. Collectively, the effectiveness of the combination therapy depends on tumor immune status. ECT was more effective in more immunogenic tumors, but GET exhibited greater contribution in less immunogenic tumors. Thus, the selection of the therapy, namely, either ECT alone or combination therapy with p. t. IL-12, should be predominantly based on tumor immune status.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jconrel.2021.03.009DOI Listing
April 2021

Development of Tumor Cell-Based Vaccine with IL-12 Gene Electrotransfer as Adjuvant.

Vaccines (Basel) 2020 Mar 2;8(1). Epub 2020 Mar 2.

Department of Experimental Oncology, Institute of Oncology Ljubljana, Zaloska cesta 2, SI-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Tumor cell-based vaccines use tumor cells as a source of tumor-associated antigens. In our study, we aimed to develop and test a tumor vaccine composed of tumor cells killed by irradiation combined with in vivo interleukin-12 gene electrotransfer as an adjuvant. Vaccination was performed in the skin of B16-F10 malignant melanoma or CT26 colorectal carcinoma tumor-bearing mice, distant from the tumor site and combined with concurrent tumor irradiation. Vaccination was also performed before tumor inoculation in both tumor models and tumor outgrowth was followed. The antitumor efficacy of vaccination in combination with tumor irradiation or preventative vaccination varied between the tumor models. A synergistic effect between vaccination and irradiation was observed in the B16-F10, but not in the CT26 tumor model. In contrast, up to 56% of mice were protected from tumor outgrowth in the CT26 tumor model and none were protected in the B16-F10 tumor model. The results suggest a greater contribution of the therapeutic vaccination to tumor irradiation in a less immunogenic B16-F10 tumor model, in contrast to preventative vaccination, which has shown greater efficacy in a more immunogenic CT26 tumor model. Upon further optimization of the vaccination and irradiation regimen, our vaccine could present an alternative tumor cell-based vaccine.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/vaccines8010111DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7157224PMC
March 2020

Monolithic chromatography on conjoint liquid chromatography columns for speciation of platinum-based chemotherapeutics in serum of cancer patients.

J Trace Elem Med Biol 2020 Jan 18;57:28-39. Epub 2019 Sep 18.

Department of Environmental Sciences, Jožef Stefan Institute, Jamova 39, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia; Jožef Stefan International Postgraduate School, Jamova 39, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia. Electronic address:

Background: Monolithic chromatography using convective interaction media (CIM) disks or columns can be used in the separation step of speciation analysis. When different monolithic disks are placed in one housing, forming conjoint liquid chromatography (CLC) monolithic column, two-dimensional separation is achieved in a single chromatographic run.

Methods: Here, we assembled low-pressure (maximum 50 bar) CLC monolithic column, which consists of two 0.34 mL shallow CIM monolithic disks and high-pressure CLC column (maximum 150 bar) from 0.1 mL analytical high performance short bed CIMac monolithic disks. Both the CLC columns constructed from affinity Protein G and weak anion exchange diethylamine (DEAE) disks, were applied for the speciation of cisplatin, oxaliplatin and carboplatin in spiked standard serum proteins, spiked human serum and serum of cancer patients. The analytical performances of the CLC columns used were evaluated by comparing their robustness, selectivity, repeatability and reproducibility. The separated serum proteins were detected on-line by ultraviolet (UV) and eluted Pt species by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). For accurate quantification of the separated Pt species (unbound Pt-based chemotherapeutic from species associated to transferrin (Tf), human serum albumin (HSA) and Immunoglobulin G (IgG)), post column isotope dilution (ID)-ICP-MS was used.

Results: The data from analyses showed that both tested CLC monolithic columns gave statistically comparable results, with the low-pressure CLC column exhibiting better resolving power and robustness. It also enables more effective cleaning of monolithic disks and to analyse larger series of serum samples than the high-pressure CLC column. Analyses of serum samples of cancer patients treated with cisplatin or carboplatin showed that Pt-chemotherapeutics were bound preferentially to HSA (around 80%). The portion of unbound Pt in general did not exceed 2%, up to 5% of Pt was associated with Tf and approximately 20% with IgG. Column recoveries, calculated as a ratio between the sum of concentrations of Pt species eluted and concentration of total Pt in serum samples, were close to 100%.

Conclusions: Low-pressure CLC column exhibited greater potential than high-pressure CLC column, and can be thus recommended for its intended use in speciation analysis of metal-based biomolecules.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jtemb.2019.09.011DOI Listing
January 2020

Predicting tumour response to anti-PD-1 immunotherapy with computational modelling.

Phys Med Biol 2019 01 16;64(2):025017. Epub 2019 Jan 16.

Jožef Stefan Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Author to whom any correspondence should be addressed.

Cancer immunotherapy is a rapidly developing field, with numerous drugs and therapy combinations waiting to be tested in pre-clinical and clinical settings. However, the costly and time-consuming trial-and-error approach to development of new treatment paradigms creates a research bottleneck, motivating the development of complementary approaches. Computational modelling is a compelling candidate for this task, however, difficulties associated with the validation of such models limit their use in pre-clinical and clinical settings. Here we propose a bottom-up deterministic computational model to simulate tumour response to treatment with anti-programmed-death-1 antibodies (anti-PD-1). The model was built with validation in mind, and so contains minimum number of parameters, and only four free parameters. Moreover, all model parameters can be measured experimentally. Free parameters were tuned by fitting the model to experimental data from the literature, using B16-F10 murine melanoma implanted into wild type (C57BL/6), as well as into immunodeficient (NSG) mice strains, and treated with anti-PD-1 antibodies. The model's predictive ability was verified on two independent datasets from literature with different but well-known inputs. To identify possible biomarkers of response to anti-PD-1 immunotherapy, sensitivity study of key model parameters was performed. Good agreement between the simulated tumour growth curves and the experimental data was achieved, with mean relative deviations in the range of 13%-20%. Our sensitivity study demonstrated that major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I expression was the only parameter able to clearly discriminate responders from non-responders to anti-PD-1 therapy. Additionally, the results of sensitivity studies suggest that MHC class I expression might affect the predictive ability of other biomarkers that are currently used in the clinics, such as PD-1 ligand (PD-L1) expression. Interestingly, our model predicts the best response to anti-PD-1 therapy for subjects with moderate PD-L1 values. Such computational models show promise to support, guide and accelerate future immunotherapy research.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1361-6560/aaf96cDOI Listing
January 2019

Connecting the in vitro and in vivo experiments in electrochemotherapy - a feasibility study modeling cisplatin transport in mouse melanoma using the dual-porosity model.

J Control Release 2018 09 20;286:33-45. Epub 2018 Jul 20.

University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Tržaška cesta 25, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia. Electronic address:

In electrochemotherapy two conditions have to be met to be successful - the electric field of sufficient amplitude and sufficient uptake of chemotherapeutics in the tumor. Current treatment plans only take into account critical electric field to achieve cell membrane permeabilization. However, permeabilization alone does not guarantee uptake of chemotherapeutics and consequently successful treatment. We performed a feasibility study to determine whether the transport of cisplatin in vivo could be calculated based on experiments performed in vitro. In vitro, a spectrum of parameters can be explored without ethical issues. Mouse melanoma B16-F1 cell suspension and inoculated B16-F10 tumors were exposed to electric pulses in the presence of chemotherapeutic cisplatin. The uptake of cisplatin was measured by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. We modeled the transport of cisplatin with the dual-porosity model, which is based on the diffusion equation, connects pore formation with membrane permeability, and includes transport between several compartments. In our case, there were three compartments - tumor cells, interstitial fraction and peritumoral region. Our hypothesis was that in vitro permeability coefficient could be introduced in vivo, as long as tumor physiology was taken into account. Our hypothesis was confirmed as the connection of in vitro and in vivo experiments was possible by introducing a transformation coefficient which took into account the in vivo characteristics, i.e., smaller available area of the plasma membrane for transport due to cell density, presence of cell-matrix in vivo, and reduced drug mobility. We thus show that it is possible to connect in vitro and in vivo experiments of electrochemotherapy. However, more experimental work is required for model validation.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jconrel.2018.07.021DOI Listing
September 2018

Antitumor in situ vaccination effect of TNFα and IL-12 plasmid DNA electrotransfer in a murine melanoma model.

Cancer Immunol Immunother 2018 May 21;67(5):785-795. Epub 2018 Feb 21.

Department of Experimental Oncology, Institute of Oncology Ljubljana, Zaloska 2, 1000, Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Gene electrotransfer (GET) is one of the most efficient non-viral gene therapy approaches for the localized transfer of multiple genes into tumors in vivo; therefore, it is especially promising for delivering different cytokines that are toxic if administered systemically. In this study, we used concomitant intratumoral GET of two cytokines: tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα), a potent cytotoxic cytokine to induce in situ vaccination, and interleukin 12 (IL-12), an immunostimulatory cytokine to boost the primed local immune response into a systemic one. After performing GET in murine melanoma tumors, both TNFα and IL-12 mRNA levels were significantly increased, which resulted in a pronounced delay in tumor growth of 27 days and a prolonged survival time of mice. An antitumor immune response was confirmed by extensive infiltration of immune cells in the tumor site, and expansion of the effector immune cells in the sentinel lymph nodes. Furthermore, the effect of in situ vaccination was indicated by the presence of vitiligo localized to the treatment area and resistance of the mice to secondary challenge with tumor cells. Intratumoral GET of two cytokines, one for in situ vaccination and one for an immune boost, proved feasible and effective in eliciting a potent and durable antitumor response; therefore, further studies of this approach are warranted.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00262-018-2133-0DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5928174PMC
May 2018

Comparable effectiveness and immunomodulatory actions of oxaliplatin and cisplatin in electrochemotherapy of murine melanoma.

Bioelectrochemistry 2018 Feb 3;119:161-171. Epub 2017 Oct 3.

Institute of Oncology Ljubljana, Department of Experimental Oncology, Zaloska cesta 2, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia; University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Health Sciences, Zdravstvena pot 5, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia. Electronic address:

Interest in platinum-based chemotherapeutics such as oxaliplatin (OXA) and cisplatin (CDDP) has been reinvigorated by their newly described impacts on tumor-specific immune responses. In addition to CDDP, OXA is frequently used to treat cancers. Based on the characteristics of OXA, which are similar to those of CDDP, and the presumably more pronounced immunomodulatory effect of OXA, OXA is a candidate for electrochemotherapy (ECT). We compared the effectiveness of intratumoral ECT with OXA to that of ECT with CDDP in murine B16F10 melanoma to determine the equieffective dose. Special attention was given to the elicitation of immunogenic cell death and local immune response. Based on the in vitro and in vivo results pertaining to effectiveness and drug uptake in cells and tumors, ECT with OXA is as effective as ECT with CDDP when the OXA dose is increased 1.6-fold. Exposure of melanoma cells to ECT induces immunogenic cell death when either OXA or CDDP is used, which correlates with a comparable increase in lymphocyte infiltration into tumors after ECT with either OXA or CDDP. Based on these results, OXA is a valid platinum-based drug for use with ECT, and the effectiveness of ECT with OXA is comparable to that of the well-established ECT with CDDP. Furthermore, both drugs display equal and specific immune responses following ECT.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bioelechem.2017.09.009DOI Listing
February 2018

Tum1 is involved in the metabolism of sterol esters in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

BMC Microbiol 2017 Aug 22;17(1):181. Epub 2017 Aug 22.

Jožef Stefan Institute, Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences, Jamova cesta 39, 1000, Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Background: The only hitherto known biological role of yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae Tum1 protein is in the tRNA thiolation pathway. The mammalian homologue of the yeast TUM1 gene, the thiosulfate sulfurtransferase (a.k.a. rhodanese) Tst, has been proposed as an obesity-resistance and antidiabetic gene. To assess the role of Tum1 in cell metabolism and the putative functional connection between lipid metabolism and tRNA modification, we analysed evolutionary conservation of the rhodanese protein superfamily, investigated the role of Tum1 in lipid metabolism, and examined the phenotype of yeast strains expressing the mouse homologue of Tum1, TST.

Results: We analysed evolutionary relationships in the rhodanese superfamily and established that its members are widespread in bacteria, archaea and in all major eukaryotic groups. We found that the amount of sterol esters was significantly higher in the deletion strain tum1Δ than in the wild-type strain. Expression of the mouse TST protein in the deletion strain did not rescue this phenotype. Moreover, although Tum1 deficiency in the thiolation pathway was complemented by re-introducing TUM1, it was not complemented by the introduction of the mouse homologue Tst. We further showed that the tRNA thiolation pathway is not involved in the regulation of sterol ester content in S. cerevisiae, as overexpression of the tE, tK and tQ tRNAs did not rescue the lipid phenotype in the tum1Δ deletion strain, and, additionally, deletion of the key gene for the tRNA thiolation pathway, UBA4, did not affect sterol ester content.

Conclusions: The rhodanese superfamily of proteins is widespread in all organisms, and yeast TUM1 is a bona fide orthologue of mammalian Tst thiosulfate sulfurtransferase gene. However, the mouse TST protein cannot functionally replace yeast Tum1 protein, neither in its lipid metabolism-related function, nor in the tRNA thiolation pathway. We show here that Tum1 protein is involved in lipid metabolism by decreasing the sterol ester content in yeast cells, and that this function of Tum1 is not exerted through the tRNA thiolation pathway, but through another, currently unknown pathway.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12866-017-1088-1DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5567475PMC
August 2017