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The adoptive transfer of tumor-reactive cells is a promising approach for the treatment of melanoma and some other cancers. To remedy the difficulties associated with the isolation and expansion of tumor-reactive T cells in most cancer patients, peripheral blood T cells can be retargeted to any chosen tumor antigen by the genetic transfer of an antigen-specific receptor. The transduced receptors may be human leukocyte antigen-restricted, heterodimeric T-cell antigen receptor (TCRs), or chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), which typically recognize native cell-surface antigens. Considerable progress has been made in recent years to address the challenges posed by the transfer of either receptor type. Vector and protein modifications enable the expression of TCR chains in human T cells at functional levels and with a reduced risk of mis-pairing with endogenous TCR chains. The combinatorial inclusion of activating and costimulatory domains in CARs has dramatically enhanced the signaling properties of the chimeric receptors described over a decade ago. Based on the effective T-cell transduction and expansion procedures now available to support clinical investigation, improved designer TCRs and second generation CARs targeting an array of antigens are being evaluated in a range of hematological malignancies and solid tumors.