Immunology Researchers at MUSC

* denotes faculty eligible to be T32 mentors

Stephen Tomlinson, Ph.D. * (Program Director)

Professor & Vice Chair for Research & Faculty Development, Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Dr. Tomlinson studies the biology of the complement system, with a focus on the role of complement in the pathophysiology of inflammation, as well as how inflammation modulates adaptive immunity. Specific areas of interest include immunopathologic mechanisms involved in graft injury following transplantation such as ischemia reperfusion injury, graft immunogenicity and alloresponsiveness. He also has an active neuroimmunology program with a focus on how complement and other components of the innate immune system modulate injury and recovery in stroke, spinal cord injury and, more recently, traumatic brain injury.

Finally, Dr. Tomlinson is investigating how complement activation products modulate anti-tumor immunity via interaction with complement receptors on antigen-presenting cells and T cells. He also has developed a considerable toolbox of complement inhibitors and related reagents that have been utilized to investigate complement-dependent pathogenesis in clinically relevant model systems. Dr. Tomlinson’s research has been the foundation for 25 invention disclosures and 132 patent applications in more than 50 countries, with 53 patents issued.

He has been involved in numerous commercial successes through licensing of drug candidates to the pharmaceutical industry. The genesis of this was through the formation of Taligen Therapeutics Inc. (in collaboration with Drs. Gilkeson and Rohrer and external advisor, Dr. Holers), which was ultimately acquired by Alexion Pharmaceuticals for $111 million upfront with additional trailing milestones that are based on clinical success.

He is currently involved in a new commercialization effort with the formation of AdMIRx, for which intellectual property rights have been secured. Sanderling Ventures has an option to license the technology and has committed funds to patent protection and potentially commercialization. Dr. Tomlinson was the 2014 MUSC Innovator of the Year, and was elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors in 2015.

  • Collaborations: Co-authorship with Gilkeson, Rohrer, Atkinson, Li, Liu, Paulos; Grant applications with Atkinson, Gilkeson, Li, Kirkwood, Rohrer, Yu; Additional collaborations with Guo, Paulos.
  • Current Postdocs: Zhenxiao Tu, Frank Wang, Xiaofeng Yang, and Chaowen Zheng


Zihai Li, M.D., Ph.D. * (Program co-Director)

Professor & Chair, Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Dr. Li’s research interests are primarily in the field of chaperone biology, immune tolerance and cancer immunology, particularly related to the roles of a key molecular chaperone, gp96, in the endoplasmic reticulum.

His laboratory is the leader in the field of gp96 research by having genetically mapped most of the known key clients of gp96, determined its co-chaperone, pinpointed its client-binding domain, and illuminated its roles in several important biological processes, including immune tolerance, hematopoiesis, innate immunity, oncogenesis, and unfolded protein response (UPR). Current interests of the laboratory are inflammation, oncogenesis and cancer immunology with a specific focus on UPR, thrombocyte and regulatory T cells in the processes.

Dr. Li has held 4 investigator-sponsored INDs from the FDA and has been active in translational research through a collaboration with Agenus, a biotech company based on Lexington, MA.

Since Dr. Li’s arrival at MUSC, he has submitted 10 invention disclosures and filed 5 patent applications, with one issued for the treatment of cancer with a combination of conventional drugs and HSP70 vaccine. He is currently evaluating 2 additional technologies for intellectual protection.

His pharma collaborations include safety and feasibility studies with Oncovir, Inc., side effects and dosage studies with Mayo Clinic, and chemotherapeutic comparisons of efficacy and safety with GlaxoSmithKline. 

  • Collaborations: Co-authorship with Gilkeson, Guo, Liu, Paulos, Rohrer, Tomlinson, Wu, Yang; Grant applications with Atkinson, Bartee, Gilkeson, Guo, Howe, Kirkwood, Liu, Paulos, Tomlinson, Yang; Additional collaborations with Yu.
  • Current Postdocs: Alessandra Metelli, Mohammad Salem, Maria Velegraki


Raymond Dubois, M.D., Ph.D. *

Professor & Dean of College of Medicine

Dr. Dubois maintains an active research program in 2 areas.

One focus is the study of how chronic inflammation contributes to colorectal cancer initiation, progression and metastasis. He is investigating how the chemokine receptor, CXCR2, modulates infiltration of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) to inflamed colonic mucosa and colitis-associated tumors and how CXCR2-expressing MDSCs contribute to chronic inflammation and tumor growth in the colon via modulation of Th17 cells and colonic CD8+ T cell cytotoxic activity. He also is investigating how a nuclear receptor, PPARd, connects chronic inflammation and tumorigenesis.

A second focus is to understand how PGE2 promotes colorectal cancer formation, progression and metastasis, and how PGE2 promotes tumor growth and progression by induction of tumor epithelial cell proliferation, survival and migration/invasion.

Dr. Dubois has an issued patent on a method to identify and prevent cellular genes needed for viral growth and cellular genes that function as tumor suppressors.

Before joining MUSC, he was on the board of the Arizona Bioindustry Association and Executive Director of the Arizona Biodesign Institute. Dr. Dubois is still in the process of setting up his laboratory at MUSC and, as such, has not yet established MUSC collaborations.

  • Current Postdocs:


Carl Atkinson, Ph.D. *

Associate Professor, Departments of Microbiology & Immunology & Surgery; Director, Lee Patterson Allen Transplant Immunobiology Laboratory

Dr. Atkinson is primarily interested in the interplay of the complement system with adaptive immunity in the pathophysiology of inflammation and development of chronic diseases. His major interests include organ transplantation and respiratory diseases. With regard to respiratory disease, an emphasis is on the impact of cigarette smoke exposure on modification of the immune response and disease development in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. With regard to organ transplantation, a focus is on mechanisms responsible for inflammatory changes that occur in donor organs following brain death, and how this immune priming alters post-transplant inflammation and subsequently modulates alloimmunity and acute and chronic rejection.

Together with the Tomlinson laboratory, his laboratory has established several difficult murine models of transplantation, including lung, liver and vascularized composite allograft (heterotopic and orthotopic) transplantation.

In 2014, Dr. Atkinson co-founded ToleRaM Nanotech, LLC, a company based on technology developed in his laboratory at MUSC for the targeted delivery of immunosuppression therapeutics to organ transplant recipients. ToleRaM Nanotech, LLC has won a number of prestigious awards and recognition, including the 2014 BioProcess International “Emerging Company” Award, keynote abstract at the Techconnect World and National Innovation Summit, acceptance into the South Carolina Launch business development network, and recently a fundable score for an NIH STTR Phase I grant.

Dr. Atkinson has filed 11 invention disclosures, with 35 US and international patent applications, 4 of which have been issued.

  • Collaborations: Co-authorship with Gilkeson, Paulos, Rohrer, Tomlinson, Yu; Grant applications with Bartee, Gilkeson, Guo, Kirkwood, Li, Paulos Rohrer, Tomlinson, Yu; Additional collaborations with Wu.
  • Current Postdocs: Changhai Li


Eric Bartee, Ph.D. *

Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology & Immunology

My interests as a scientist involve the study of virus-host interactions with particular interest paid to how these interactions can be used to improve therapy for cancer patients, a field known as oncolytic virotherapy. While the oncolytic phenomenon has been observed using a wide variety of viruses, our lab is primarily focused on the therapeutic potential of a virus known as myxoma. In the European rabbit myxoma causes an incredibly lethal disease known as myxomatosis; however, the virus is unable to cause disease in any other known species due to its inability to counteract non-rabbit innate immune responses.

In non-rabbit hosts, this restricts myxoma replication to cells where these responses are either absent or defective, a state which occurs almost exclusively in transformed cancer cells. This naturally occurring cancer tropism allows myxoma to effectively treat a wide variety of cancers including: skin cancer, pancreatic cancer, brain cancer, head and neck cancers, and various cancers of the blood.

Our lab is currently working on three major projects designed to improve the oncolytic potential of the myxoma virus.

  • Combining oncolytics and T cell checkpoint inhibitors: Our lab has pioneered a method to deliver T cell checkpoint inhibitors directly to the local tumor microenvironment using novel recombinant myxoma viruses. We are currently exploring: the molecular mechanisms underlying the improved efficacy of these recombinant myxoma constructs, the potential role that the complex tumor microenvironment plays during both oncolytic and checkpoint therapies, and how to further improve outcomes by creating next generation recombinant viruses and combinatorial treatments.
  • Oncolytic treatment of multiple myeloma: We are currently exploring whether myxoma virus can be used as a front line therapy to improve treatment of myeloma patients by: directly identifying and eliminating myeloma in vivo, eliminating residual myeloma after chemotherapy, or expelling myeloma from its protected bone marrow niches.
  • Improving systemic delivery of myxoma: While myxoma virus is incredibly effective at treating large localized tumors, the virus is often much less efficacious against small metastatic disease.

We are therefore interested in understanding the basic biology of the myxoma virus with special interest paid to the viral proteins which mediate binding of the virus to target cells.

  • Current Postdocs:


Gary Gilkeson, M.D. *

Professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology & Immunology, & Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs & Faculty Development, College of Medicine

Dr. Gilkeson’s research interests focus on the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus, SLE), with special emphasis on factors impacting ethnic disparities in outcomes of lupus nephritis. His studies span from basic immunology, inflammation and genetics to population-based studies. He established the SLEIGH (SLE in Gullah Health) study to identify genetic and environmental factors that result in this disparity. He also studies how oxidative stress affects lupus patients and animal models of lupus, the role of the complement system in lupus, and the role of estrogen receptors and genetic factors involved in immunoglobulin class switch recombination.

Dr. Gilkeson has been involved in the development of several new therapies for human immune-mediated diseases. He has active collaborations with 3 biotech/pharma companies related to development of novel therapeutic and diagnostic products. He was directly involved in the startup company Taligen Therapeutics (along with Drs. Tomlinson and Rohrer and external advisor Dr. Holers) that was ultimately acquired by Alexion Pharmaceuticals for $111 million. He has been involved in multiple clinical trials. His research has been the foundation for 8 invention disclosures and 6 patent applications in more than 10 countries, with 6 patents issued. Several patents are licensed.

  • Collaborations: Co-authorship with Atkinson, Huang, Li, Rohrer, Tomlinson, Tsao; Grant applications with Atkinson, Li, Liu, Paulos, Rohrer, Tomlinson, Tsao, Wu; Additional collaborations with Yu.
  • Current Postdocs:


Beichu Guo, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Research in the Guo laboratory is focused on the role of innate immune system, especially inflammasomes, in autoimmune diseases and cancer. Recently, Dr. Guo has been awarded an American Cancer Society (ACS) Research Scholar Grant for his research on senescence-associated inflammation and cancer progression.

  • Current Postdocs:


Azizul Haque, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Dr. Haque's laboratory conducts research in the areas of tumor immunology, transplantation immunology and autoimmunity. In tumor immunology, we are investigating the mechanisms by which malignant tumors such as lymphoma, prostate and melanoma evade immune recognition via MHC class I and II pathways.

  • Current Postdocs:


Philip H. Howe, Ph.D. *

Professor & Chair, Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Dr. Howe is investigating signaling pathways and immune modulation mediated by transforming growth factor (TGFβ1) and Wnt, and cross-talk in models of differentiation and cancer. A current focus is TGFβ1 modulation of B cell development and apoptosis, and how Dab2 serves as a molecular switch to control whether cells undergo apoptosis or autophagy in response to TGFβ. He is investigating how this switch may underlie chemosensitivity and acquired-resistance during tumorigenesis. A further line of investigation is how TGFβ regulation of hnRNP E1 phosphorylation not only regulates translational silencing of select mRNAs involved in EMT/metastasis but also of lncRNAs that may also contribute to tumor progression.

  • Collaborations: Grant applications with Li; Additional collaborations with Kirkwood, Paulos, Wu, Yu.
  • Current Postdocs: Annamarie Dalton, Simon Grelet, Breege Howley


Yan Huang, M.D., Ph.D. *

Professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Medical Genetics

Dr. Huang’s research interest is the effect of diabetes-associated factors such as dyslipidemia and hyperglycemia on toll-like receptor (TLR) 4-mediated innate immune responses. His laboratory has utilized several animal models for human diabetes and atherosclerosis. Dr. Huang’s laboratory also is investigating the molecular and signaling mechanisms involved in upregulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin 6 by lipopolysaccharide (LPS), high glucose and high saturated fatty acids, and is investigating LPS-triggered TLR4 inflammatory signaling in macrophages. Dr. Huang has 3 invention disclosures in the area of atherosclerosis and diabetes treatment.

  • Collaborations: Co-authorship with Gilkeson, Kirkwood, Rohrer; Grant applications with Kirkwood, Rohrer.

  • Current Postdocs:


Wei Jiang, M.D. *

Assistant Professor, Departments of Microbiology & Immunology, Medicine/Division of Infectious Disease

Dr. Jiang has a broad background in infectious diseases with specific clinical and research training and expertise in HIV immunopathogenesis and data analysis. A major focus of her research is B cell perturbation in HIV disease. She is currently the PI of one NIH R01 (AI1288864) titled “On the pathogenic role of anti-CD4 antibody in poor CD4+ T cell recovery after antiretroviral therapy in HIV disease”. The objective of this grant is to study the role of qualitative (microbiome) and quantitative (level of 16S rDNA or LPS) of plasma microbial products in HIV pathogenesis and substance abuse in HIV pathogenesis. Dr. Jiang's publications in the fields of B cell biology, Toll-like receptors and B cell pathogenesis in HIV disease demonstrate her success and productivity.

  • Current Postdocs: Zhenwu Luo, Zejun Zhou


Carsten Krieg, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Departments of Microbiology & Immunology, Dermatology

In the era of genomic, transcriptomic and proteomic approaches, new therapeutic interventions have greatly broadened the options for patients with cancer and immune-related diseases. Since 2011, 68 new drugs have been approved for 22 indications, including agents that have revolutionized cancer therapy, offering nearly too many options to too few patients. The challenge to clinicians and scientists alike is to understand the mechanism(s) to find the optimal treatment regimens. By elucidating the immune mechanisms of the most promising treatments the Krieg Lab wants to optimize the therapeutic effect. Dr. Krieg is interested in the discovery of immune signatures during inflammatory processes by integrating high dimensional single-cell technologies with machine-learning computational tools. These new signatures will be able:

  • To define novel correlates of clinical outcomes for a variety of diseases including cancer and autoimmunity
  • Identify new interventional pathways
  • To provide tools for scientific and clinical analysis.

Dr. Krieg utilizes unique expertise from multiple techniques and fields, such as single-cell mass spectrometry (a.k.a., mass cytometry or Cytometry by Time-Of-Flight, CyTOF), high parameter sorter and single cell sequencing techniques in conjunction with bioinformatic analysis tools to look at clinical samples, and preclinical mouse models.

  • Current Postdocs:


Bei Liu, M.D., MPH *

Associate Professor, Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Dr. Liu’s research interests are in the areas of cancer immunotherapy, stem cell-based cancer vaccine and innate immunity. More specifically, her foci are:

  • Development of a universal stem cell-based cancer vaccine. The premise is that cancer cells share the expression of molecules (known as “oncofetal antigens”) with embryonic materials and that the immune response against these molecules in the embryonic tissues is cross-protective against cancer. Dr. Liu has identified molecules that are present in both stem cells and cancer cells that can be targets of the immune system, and her research is involved in dissecting the detailed molecular interaction between stem cells and the host immune system.
  • Investigating chaperone biology in B cells and plasma cells in both normal and pathological conditions and, in particular, the mechanisms by which the heat shock protein grp94 regulates plasma cells and multiple myeloma.
  • The function of dendritic cells and, more specifically, how grp94 modulates dendritic cell function. She is investigating how grp94 and its clients, in particular TLRs and integrins, regulate DC homeostasis, antigen cross-presentation and tumor surveillance against both spontaneous and inflammation-induced cancer.

Dr. Liu has 3 invention disclosures, and 2 patents pending on pluripotent stem cells as cancer vaccines and hsp90 inhibitors for the treatment of cancer and inflammatory diseases. She also is well trained in clinical trial design.

  • Collaborations: Collaborations: Co-authorship with Guo, Li, Paulos, Tomlinson, Yang, Yu; Grant applications with Gilkeson, Kirkwood, Li, Yang, Yu; Additional collaborations with Bartee, Rohrer, Wu.
  • Current Postdocs: Stephen Iwanowycz


Shikar Mehrotra, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Departments of Surgery, Microbiology, & Immunology

T cell death, cell metabolism, melanoma immunotherapy, autoimmune vitiligo

  • Current Postdocs:


Eric Meissner, M.D.

Assistant Professor, Departments of Medicine/Division of Infectious Disease, Microbiology, & Immunology

The Meissner lab studies the interface between the host immune system and chronic viral infections, with a specific interest in HIV and viral hepatitis (HCV, HBV). The motivation to pursue translational research derives from observations in the clinic, with an overall aim towards developing novel approaches for treatment.

  • Current Postdocs:


Satish N. Nadig, M.D.

Associate Professor, Departments of Surgery, Microbiology, & Immunology

Regulatory T cell Biology, Applications of bioengineering and nanotechnology as applied to transplantation, transplant immunology, and ischemia reperfusion injury

  • Current Postdocs: Qi Chen


Jay Pandey, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Dr. Pandey has broad experience in the genetics and immunology of malignant diseases. Immunoglobulin heavy and light chain genes are among the genes that are differentially expressed in African American and European-American men with prostate cancer. Immunoglobulin heavy chain GM (γ marker) alleles/allotypes—the primary focus of his investigations—are one of the most powerful tools for genetic characterization of human populations. To our knowledge, Dr. Pandey’s lab is the only lab in the U.S. working on these genes, and the first to show that GM and Fcγ receptor genes play a significant role in immunity to tumor-associated antigens in prostate cancer.

  • Current Postdocs:


Chrystal Paulos, Ph.D. *

Associate Professor, Departments of Microbiology & Immunology, Dermatology

Dr. Paulos is a T cell immunologist investigating T cell-based immunotherapies for cancers and autoimmune diseases. Her studies revolve around T cell activation and regulatory mechanisms. With the goal of broadening the utility and efficacy of adoptive cell transfer, her work focuses on improving host preconditioning regimens as well as augmenting various T cell subsets by ex vivo and in vivo manipulation with novel cytokine/chemical cocktails and with co-stimulatory molecules. Her lab also genetically redirects murine and human T cells with novel T cell receptors or chimeric antigen receptors to address their role in aggressive models of cancer (such as pancreatic and ovarian cancer). Dr. Paulos has submitted 3 patents, with 1 issued on the role of targeted drugs or costimulatory molecules in regulating the immune system to reduce autoimmunity or enhance antitumor immunity. Her issued patent has been licensed to Novartis, for whom she acts as a consultant. She is currently involved in a dendritic cell vaccine trial for pancreatic cancer, and also with Dr. Gilkeson in a set of studies integrated with a randomized Phase II trial of mesenchymal stem cell infusion as a potential treatment for refractory lupus.

  • Collaborations: Co-authorship with Atkinson, Li, Liu, Rohrer, Tomlinson, Yu; Grant applications with Atkinson, Bartee, Gilkeson, Li, Yu; Additional collaborations with Guo, Howe, Kirkwood, Wu.
  • Current Postdocs: Connor Dwyer


Baerbel Rohrer, Ph.D. *

Professor & Endowed Chair, Department of Ophthalmology

Dr. Rohrer is studying the role of innate immune effector mechanisms and angiogenesis in age-related macular degeneration, and mechanisms of degeneration and neuroprotection in retinitis pigmentosa. Over the past 10 years, the number of genes associated with photoreceptor dystrophies has almost doubled from ~100 to almost 200 genes. Two key clusters include genes involved in complement activation/neuroinflammation and in energy metabolism, areas of study in Dr. Rohrer’s laboratory. She is utilizing cytotoxicity models of retinal degeneration and different in vivo models to investigate the roles of complement-mediated inflammatory mechanisms, immune changes and the role of antibodies associated with pathogenesis, oxidative stress and angiogenesis (and their interplay) in macular degeneration.

Dr. Rohrer also is a leading innovator at MUSC. She has filed 18 invention disclosures, 23 US and 81 international patent applications, and has 5 US and 51 international patents issued. Her IP contributed to the foundation of 3 startup companies, one of which she co-founded. Additional patents are licensed.

She is on the scientific advisory boards of 2 companies and was previously a consultant for Genentech. Dr. Rohrer also was directly involved with Drs. Tomlinson and Gilkeson and external advisor, Dr. Holers, in the formation of Taligen Therapeutics, which was subsequently acquired by a pharmaceutical company. She has received SBIR funding, was MUSC Innovator of the Year Award in 2013 and elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors in 2014.

  • Collaborations: Co-authorship with Atkinson, Gilkeson, Huang, Li, Paulos, Tomlinson; Grant applications with Atkinson, Gilkeson, Huang, Tomlinson; Additional collaborations with Liu.
  • Current Postdocs: Masa Ishii, Navjot Shah


Mark Rubinstein, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Departments of Surgery, Microbiology, & Immunology

The Rubinstein Laboratory is focused on developing novel immune-based therapies for the treatment of cancer. There are three broad research focuses:

  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors: Administration of immune checkpoint inhibitors have demonstrated unprecedented efficacy in the treatment of select cancers. Immune checkpoint inhibitors act by removing tumor inhibitory signals that would otherwise prevent immune cells from killing tumor cells. While some patients can achieve long-term tumor regression, a major hurdle in the field is understanding why some cancers, and why some patients, do not respond to checkpoint therapy. The Rubinstein laboratory is focused on:
    • Developing methods to improve checkpoint therapy
    • Identifying biomarkers to predict which patients will respond, and
    • Uncovering mechanisms by which patients achieve clinical responses after checkpoint therapy.
  • Adoptive cellular therapy: The transfer of tumor-killing immune cells has shown great promise in certain cancers refractory to other therapies. The Rubinstein laboratory is developing novel techniques for improving these adoptive cell therapy strategies. For example, many clinical strategies use chemotherapy or radiation prior to adoptive cell therapy with the goal of making room for the donor cells. The Rubinstein laboratory is developing methodology to avoid the need for these harsh and toxic therapies while retaining the ability to mediate durable tumor regression. The development of these adoptive cellular therapy strategies is being done in collaboration with the Center for Cellular Therapy.
  • Understanding tumor-induced immune suppression: One problem in applying immune-based approaches for the treatment of cancer is that the tumor cells often suppress immune responses. Thus, inducing an effective immune response may require either reversing suppression or making immune cells resistant to suppression. To study these suppressive pathways, the Rubinstein laboratory is assaying tumor biopsies from patients.

Understanding these immune suppressive pathways will facilitate the development of new therapeutic strategies.

  • Current Postdocs:


Adam Soloff, Ph.D.

Research Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Dr. Soloff’s research interests include examining the interface between innate immunity and disease, particularly at the pulmonary mucosa. He attained a doctorate in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, where his efforts focused on the development of novel vaccination and therapeutic regimens for the treatment of viral infections such as caused HIV, SARS-CoV, and Influenza A Virus. As a post-doctoral candidate, he examined the effects of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza on the pulmonary immune system within non-human primates. To gain experience in pulmonary immunology, he completed additional post-doctoral training in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine where he examined the immunopathology of HIV infection upon COPD. Through this training, he gained extensive experience in the characterization and measurement of innate and adaptive cellular immunity in the lung. Currently, he works as a Research Health Scientist at the Ralph H. Johnson VAMC and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).

  • Current Postdocs:


Betty Tsao, Ph.D. *

Professor of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology & Immunology

Dr. Tsao joined MUSC in December 2015 from UCLA. Her work focuses on identification of genetic risk factors for disease manifestations of systemic lupus erythematosus, a chronic, debilitating autoimmune disease that mainly affects women with features of autoantibody production, immune complex deposition and multiple target organ damage. Using collected DNA samples and linked clinical and demographic information from thousands of SLE patients and controls, she has contributed to the identification of less than 80 loci predisposing to SLE. She is now investigating how the underlying risk variants perturb the immune system resulting in systemic autoimmunity and tissue injury. Dr. Tsao has a strong record of faculty development and mentorship. Dr. Tsao has 1 patent, is collaborating with the biotechnology company Amgen on clinical investigations on lupus through a company funded grant, and has been engaged in clinical trials.

  • Collaborations: Co-authorship with Gilkeson; Grant application in process with Gilkeson (she has recently joined MUSC).
  • Current Postdocs:


Chenthamarakshan Vasu, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Research interests of Dr. Vasu’s Lab include:

  • Co-stimulation and co-repression in immune tolerance: Co-stimulatory and co-repressor pathways are considered essential for T cell activation, differentiation, and regulation of immune response. Dr. Vasu’s Lab, therefore, believes that a thorough understanding of the role of these signaling pathways in T cell function is very important for developing intervention strategies against immune mediated disorders. Primary focus of this project is on understanding the role of signaling through CD28, CTLA-4, PD-1 and BTLA in maintaining peripheral tolerance. These studies can lead to development of effective targeted immunotherapy approaches for autoimmunity and transplant rejection;
  • Innate immune receptors on mucosal immune tolerance: Immune cells in the intestinal mucosa provide first line of defense against microbial invasion. However, these cells are continuously exposed to microbial and food components, and if the immune response is not held in check, then the development of an exaggerated immune response could lead to chronic inflammatory disorders. One of the recently initiated projects in Dr. Vasu’s Lab is focused on understanding the role of innate immune receptors such as TLR2 and dectin 1 in promoting tolerogenic immune response and/or preventing inflammation. Studies are focused on understanding the differences in the innate immune responses between intestinal immune cells and their peripheral counterparts when these receptors are engaged. The ultimate goal of this study is to appropriately and safely manipulate the immune response of intestinal mucosa using dietary approaches for treating autoimmunity;
  • Approaches to treat autoimmunity and Transplant rejection: Traditional therapeutic approaches for autoimmune diseases and transplant rejection have relied upon administration of immunosuppressive agents which results in global, non-specific attenuation of the immune response with side effects and variable therapeutic outcomes. Dr. Vasu’s Lab is also focused on developing and testing novel antigen specific targeted immune tolerance strategies for these clinical conditions. In one approach dendritic cells are engineered to manipulate signaling at the immune synapse during antigen presentation. The other strategy involves use of microsphere based artificial antigen presenting system for targeted deletion of pathogenic T cells, and induction and expansion of antigen specific Tregs with the ability to suppress autoimmunity and transplant rejection; and
  • Tumor immunotherapy: In spite of the antigen specificity of considerable number of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) and T cells in the peripheral blood and tumor microenvironment, these cells are not capable of clearing tumors due to their immunosuppressive or tolerant nature. Dr. Vasu’s Lab is developing novel engineered dendritic cell based strategies not only to generate a strong anti-tumor effector T cell response, but also to convert existing tumor specific suppressor/regulatory T cells into IL-17 producing effector T cells in vivo for effectively eliminating cancer cells. This strategy exploits the suppressive environment of tumors for converting tolerant T cells to tumor antigen specific effector T cells.
  • Current Postdocs:


Christina Voelkel-Johnson, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Dr. Voelkel-Johnson’s laboratory is pursuing two major focus areas related to cell death and cancer therapy; sphingolipids in cancer and oxidative stress. The goal of their research is to identify how changes in sphingolipid composition impact cancer associated inflammation and how modulation of redox status can influence persistence of adaptively transferred therapeutic T cells.

  • Current Postdocs:


John Wrangle, M.D., MPH

Assistant Professor, Departments of Medicine/Division of Hematology & Oncology, Microbiology & Immunology

Dr. Wrangle’s research interests focus on the development of novel therapeutic strategies and biomarkers for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Dr. Wrangle’s research team hypothesizes that NSCLC may be classified by immune-phenotypes based on expression patterns of immune-related genes and pathways known to be important mechanisms of immune escape.

  • Current Postdocs:


Rita Young, Ph.D.

Professor, Departments of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery, Microbiology & Immunology

Dr. Young’s research focus is in the area of immune regulation as it applies to a spectrum of pathological conditions. For example, studies with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (HNSCC) identified several mechanisms by which to overcome the immune dysfunction in the cancer patients so as to increase the effectiveness of immune therapies. Toward this goal, Dr. Young’s basic science cancer immunology studies have progressed into several clinical trials with HNSCC patients, with the third immunotherapeutic trial with HNSCC patients being recently completed. She has also led a series of studies aiming to understand the immunological impact of obesity and how adipocytes can regulate immune reactivity, including interactions with endothelial cells and premalignant lesion cells to establish an immunological milieu that is supportive of cancer development. Most recently, her collaborations with mental health clinician/investigators at the Ralph H. Johnson VAMC have allowed the re-emergence of her earlier studies on mechanisms of immune-brain communications. These prior studies identified mechanisms of immune modulation in models of brain injury and immune modulation by serotonin. The spectrum of immunological studies that she has pursued as an independent PI for more than 35 years with national, peer-reviewed funding from VA, NIH, and others document my qualifications to serve as a research team leader in psychoneuroimmunological studies with PTSD Veterans.

  • Current Postdocs:


XueZhong Yu, Ph.D. *

Professor, Department of Microbiology & Immunology, & Distinguished Endowed Chair, SmartState Cancer Stem Cell Biology Program

Dr. Yu’s research focuses on the biology of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and graft-versus-leukemia (GVL) after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). The ultimate goal of these studies is to prevent or treat GVHD while preserving GVL effect, which could greatly enhance the therapeutic potential of HSCT. The major lines of work in Dr. Yu’s laboratory include:

  • T-cell differentiation and GVHD development
  • Biology of regulatory T cells and their potential application in the control of GVHD
  • Understanding how micro-RNAs regulate T and B cell responses after allogeneic HSCT
  • Evaluation of metabolic pathways or intermediates as biomarkers and therapeutic targets in GVHD and leukemia relapse.

Dr. Yu has collaborated with companies such as Novartis, Rigel, and CTI BioPharma in evaluating new drugs in translational studies. He has 1 invention disclosure and is in the process of filing a patent with Dr. Tomlinson and searching for a commercial partner to develop a complement inhibitor to treat GVHD.

  • Collaborations: Co-authorship with Atkinson, Bartee, Liu, Paulos, Tomlinson, Wu; Grant applications with Atkinson, Bartee, Paulos, Guo, Liu, Paulos, Tomlinson, Wu; Additional collaborations with Gilkeson, Howe, Li, Yang.
  • Current Postdocs: Anusara Daenthanasanmak, Hung Nguyen, Yongxia Wu


Yi (Benny) Yang, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Mucosal immunity, dendritic cells and Th17 cells, intestinal stem cells, commensal bacteria, and cancer vaccines

  • Current Postdocs:


Xian Zhang, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Medicine/Division of Rheumatology & Immunology

Regulating expression of inflammatory mediators by transcription factors, autoimmune disease, lymphocyte development, and innate inflammatory response in traumatic brain injury

  • Current Postdocs: Mara Lennard Richard (AAI fellowship)