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Researchers in the Cancer Immunology, Inflammation and Tolerance program use a range of techniques to study how the immune system influences tumorigenesis and cancer therapy. The immune system can inhibit or promote tumor progression in local tissues where pre-malignancies form. Major program themes are to elucidate

  • How pre-malignancies create and sustain local immunologic tolerance necessary for tumor formation
  • How to destroy local tolerance that protects tumors from natural and vaccine-induced anti-tumor immunity.

The scientific rationale for this dual approach is that pre-malignant cells create and sustain tolerance during tumor progression, while breaking tumor-associated tolerance is necessary for successful anti-tumor treatment. Hence, program goals are to elucidate molecular and cellular pathways at sites of inflammation that promote or break immune tolerance using pre-clinical mouse models of tumor progression and autoimmune syndromes, and developing novel immunotherapies to treat these syndromes more effectively by targeting tolerance pathways. To this end, program faculty also engage in promoting pre-clinical research and early-phase clinical trials of novel vaccine adjuvants to improve cancer immunotherapy, in some cases with corporate partners.

To pursue these focused research themes and scientific goals, program faculty employ many state-of-the-art techniques, facilities, and unique resources, including flow cytometric sorting and analysis, a range of molecular imaging techniques, genomic analysis, and genetically modified mouse strains. Future program development will build on existing CIT program strengths by recruiting new investigators with expertise in inflammation, immunological, and metabolic research to complement current research focused on regulation of adaptive immunity.


photo of Yan Cui, PhD

Yan Cui, PhD

  • Professor
photo of Yukai He, MD, PhD

Yukai He, MD, PhD

  • Professor

I was trained as a physician, but has been fascinated by how our body’s immune system has been so effective to control not only microbial infections, but also cancer cells. We had studied the basic mechanism of how cancer vaccines activated immune responses and applied the vaccine design technologies into developing liver cancer vaccines. Over the last decade, research in my lab has been focusing on identifying novel T cell receptors (TCR) and on developing new chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) for liver cancer immunotherapy. We are fortunate that our research has been continuously funded by NCI/NIH grants. Our goal is to engineer immune T cells to become potent and targeted fighters to eliminate cancer cells and cure cancer patients.

photo of Theodore S. Johnson, MD, PhD

Theodore S. Johnson, MD, PhD

  • Associate Professor
photo of Balveen Kaur, PhD

Balveen Kaur, PhD

  • Professor
photo of Santhakumar Manicassamy, PhD

Santhakumar Manicassamy, PhD

  • Associate Professor
photo of David Munn, MD

David Munn, MD

  • Professor
photo of Rafal Pacholczyk, PhD

Rafal Pacholczyk, PhD

  • Assistant Professor
photo of Gang Zhou, PhD

Gang Zhou, PhD

  • Associate Professor

Associate Members

photo of Zoya C. Kurago, DDS, PhD

Zoya C. Kurago, DDS, PhD

  • Associate Professor
photo of Kebin Liu, PhD

Kebin Liu, PhD

  • Professor
photo of Nagendra Singh, PhD

Nagendra Singh, PhD

  • Assistant Professor

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