We are interested in understanding the mechanisms that cancers have evolved to suppress the generation of tumor antigen-specific immune responses and how this knowledge can be exploited for the development of novel and more effective cancer immunotherapy strategies. This work involves the utilization of both autochthonous transgenic tumor model systems as well as clinical specimens to develop novel strategies to enhance the efficacy of immunotherapies while also developing predictive biomarkers to better guide the management of cancer patients with these agents. We strive to translate our understanding of the fundamental biochemical and metabolic pathways within the tumor microenvironment that are critical for driving immune evasion and resistance into early phase clinical trial testing.
Our work utilizes a variety of techniques and methodologies that span the breadth of basic biological research. This work integrates studies based on both 1) transgenic mouse tumor models that are monitored using bioluminescence and micro-CT imaging, 2) a variety of clinical specimens, and 3) various bioinformatic approaches.
Our current areas of focus include:
Investigating mechanisms of adaptive or acquired immunotherapy resistance in cancer
Elucidating mechanisms of dendritic cell tolerization in the tumor microenvironment and how these processes may contribute to immunotherapy resistance
Understanding the underlying mechanisms involved in EMT-associated tumor immune evasion
Development of novel pharmacologic and genetic strategies to overcome immunotherapy resistance
Investigating mechanisms contributing to select immunotherapy-associated toxicities
Duke study identifies biomarkers that could predict immunotherapy resistance in melanoma
WRAL TechWire20 - November 22, 2022
“The new study in mice and human tissue points to a strategy for inhibiting hyper-progression, potentially benefitting an estimated 10% of cancer patients who undergo this devastating complication from checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapies."
Biomarker Predicts Immunotherapy Resistance in Melanoma
November 22, 2022
“Duke Cancer Institute researchers have identified potential biomarkers that predict the likelihood for checkpoint inhibitor drugs to backfire, driving hyper-progression of melanoma cells instead of unleashing the immune system to fight them."
DCI Researchers Launch DREAM Trial
October 5, 2022
“Less chemo, more targeted immunotherapy for all types of cancer: that’s the dream of cancer researchers today. Brent Hanks, MD, PhD, and April Salama, MD, associate professors in the division of Medical Oncology, are on the leading edge of helping to make that dream a reality for stage four melanoma patients."
Hanks Receives ASCO Conquer Cancer Award
“Duke Cancer Institute physician-scientist Brent Hanks, MD, PhD — associate director of Translational Science for DCI’s Melanoma Disease Group and director of the Hanks Lab — has received the 2021 Conquer Cancer- Bristol-Myers Squibb Advanced Clinical Research Award in Immune Checkpoint Therapy."
Researchers Identify New Way to Unmask Melanoma Cells to the Immune System
“Lab studies show promise for a clinical trial aimed at improving current immune therapies"
Melanoma survivor thanks her DCI “Dragonslayer"
“Death is no longer a foregone conclusion of stage 4 melanoma. We’re extending survival and turning melanoma into more of a chronic disease."
local_atmHanks Lab Receives 2022 Melanoma Research Foundation Grant!
trending_upKaylee Howell, B.S. joins the Hanks Lab!
Kaylee has joined the Hanks Lab to support many aspects of lab operations including clinical specimen acquisition and processing as well as mouse breeding and colony management. She will also be taking an active role in studies related to the Gli2 pathway in immune evasion as well as on the role of various inflammasomes in driving immunotherapy resistance.
trending_upYue Xue, Ph.D. joins the Hanks Lab!
We are delighted that Dr. Xue is joining the Hanks Lab to support and extend our studies focused on understanding how cancers suppress anti-tumor immunity by inducing dendritic cell tolerization.
whatshotNick DeVito, M.D. receives a 2022 Strong Start Award!
Dr. DeVito has received a 3-year Strong Start Award from the Duke School of Medicine to support ongoing studies focused on the role of EMT in driving immune evasion and immunotherapy resistance in colon cancer
whatshot Michael Plebanek, Ph.D. receives the 2021 Duke Cancer Institute Research Retreat Bell Award!
Dr. Michael Plebanek was awarded the 2021 Duke Cancer Institute Research Retreat Bell Award for his work on characterizing a novel population of tolerogenic dendritic cells associated with a variety of cancers
whatshot Nick DeVito, M.D. receives a 2021 Fund to Retain Physician Scientists Award!
The 2021 Fund to Retain Physician Scientists Award will support ongoing work examining the role of EMT in tumor-mediated immune evasion.
Dr. Thievanthiran was awarded a 2021 NIH/NCI Diversity Supplement Award to support his ongoing work characterizing a tumor-intrinsic adaptive resistance pathway to anti-PD-1 immunotherapy involving the NLRP3 inflammasome.
trending_up Nagendra Yarla, Ph.D. joins the Hanks Lab!
Dr. Yarla will be expanding the labs' efforts in investigating immunotherapy resistance mechanisms in melanoma and the gastrointestinal malignancies.
trending_up Linda Cao joins the Hanks Lab!
Linda is currently a Duke undergraduate student in the Biology and Global Health Programs. She will provide key support to the lab while also spearheading her own project in tumor immunology.
trending_up Y-Van Nguyen, B.S. joins the Hanks Lab!
Y-Van is a recent graduate from the Biology program at University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. She will play a major role in supporting our work in tumor-mediated dendritic cell tolerogenesis.
local_atm The Hanks Lab receives ASCO/CCF funding!
The Hanks Lab has been awarded the 2021 Advanced Clinical Research Award in Tumor Immunotherapy to investigate the role of the tumor NLRP3 inflammasome in immunotherapy resistance based on an upcoming investigator-initiated clinical trial in anti-PD-1-resistant melanoma conducted in collaboration with Dr. April Salama.
local_atm The Hanks Lab receives DoD funding!
The Hanks Lab has received an Idea Award from the DoD Melanoma Program to investigate and characterize tumor-mediated dendritic cell tolerization.
local_atm The Hanks Lab receives NIH R01 funding!
The Hanks Lab has been awarded a NIH/NCI R01 grant to investigate a tumor-intrinsic mechanism of immunotherapy toxicity.
local_atm The Hanks Lab receives Merck OTSP funding!
The Hanks Lab receives funding to investigate a tumor-intrinsic mechanism of adaptive resistance to pembrolizumab in gastroesophageal cancer.
trending_up Mandy Wang, B.S. joins the Hanks Lab!
Mandy is a Duke graduate student that will be investigating the role of tumor exosomes in the tolerization of dendritic cells in the tumor microenvironment.
local_atm The Hanks Lab receives NIH R01/R37 funding!
Hanks Lab has received NIH funding to support further research to investigate the role of the PD-L1:NLRP3 signaling axis in adaptive resistance to anti-PD-1 antibody immunotherapy.
trending_up Li Lu, M.D. joins the Hanks Lab!
Dr. Lu is a visiting scholar from Tianjin Medical University and will be investigating mechanisms of immune evasion and immunotherapy resistance in colorectal cancer.
local_atm The Hanks Lab receives funding from the Emerson Collective Foundation
The Hanks Lab receives funding from the Emerson Collective Foundation for developing a novel strategy to metabolically reprogram the tumor microenvironment to enhance the efficacy of checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy.
This is a 2 year funding program targeting high-risk, high-reward projects in the biomedical sciences.
local_atm The Hanks Lab receives funding from the Duke Physician Scientist Strong Start Program
The Hanks Lab receives funding from the Duke Physician Scientist Strong Start Program to support their ongoing efforts in investigating mechanisms of immunotherapy resistance and immunotherapy toxicity in cancer.
This is 3 years of renewable funding support to further help develop a Duke research program in cancer immunotherapy.
trending_upMichael Plebanek, Ph.D. joins the Hanks Lab!
Michael P. just completed his Ph.D. at Northwestern University where he conducted high impact studies on the role of tumor-derived exosomes and lipoprotein nanoparticles in tumor immunology. Michael P. will continue and expand our ongoing work on the role of exosomes on the modulation of the tumor immune microenvironment in both melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer.
trending_up Michael Sturdivant joins the Hanks Lab!
Michael S. graduated from UNC Greensboro with a BS in Biology and gained experience in pre-clinical and clinical immuno-oncology studies before joining the Hanks Lab. We are excited to have him as part of the team!
local_atm The Hanks Lab receives funding from D3 A*STAR and Tempest Therapeutics
The Hanks Lab receives funding from D3 A*STAR and Tempest Therapeutics to further studies of the roles of the Wnt signaling pathway and dendritic cell metabolism in regulating tumor-mediated immune evasion.
trending_up Michelle Dantzler joins the Hanks Lab!
Michelle is currently an undergraduate at Duke University majoring in Biomedical Engineering. Michelle joins as a laboratory technician both supporting the lab as well as working on her own independent project in tumor immunology.
thumb_upThe Hanks Lab receives a 3 year pre-clinical research grant from Merck
The Hanks Lab receives a 3 year pre-clinical research grant from Merck to investigate mechanisms of adaptive resistance to anti-PD-1 antibody immunotherapy.
whatshotDr. DeVito receives the 2018 Damon Runyon Physician Scientist Training Award
Dr. DeVito was recently awarded the 2018 Damon Runyon Physician Scientist Training Award for his work exploring the role of EMT in dendritic cell tolerization and cancer immune evasion. This will be a 4 year award allowing him to establish his research efforts in the field of tumor immunology and extend the translational efforts of the lab into immuno-oncology.
thumb_upThe Hanks Lab receives a two year award from Merck
whatshotDr. DeVito receives awarded a 2017 ASCO Conquer Cancer Foundation Young Investigator Award
Dr. DeVito was awarded the 2017 American Society Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Conquer Cancer Foundation Young Investigator Award for his ongoing work investigating the role of oncogenic signaling pathways in the immune tolerization of the melanoma microenvironment. Dr. DeVito will receive this one year award during a ceremony at the 2017 ASCO Annual Meeting in Chicago in early June.
thumb_upThe Hanks Lab receives a two year 2017 Pilot Award from the Melanoma Research Alliance
The Hanks Lab has been awarded a two year award to continue their investigation into mechanisms of checkpoint inhibitor resistance in pre-clinical transgenic models of melanoma.
whatshotDr. DeVito receives the 2017 2nd Year Hem/Onc Fellows Research Presentation Award
Dr. DeVito was awarded the 2nd Year Fellows Research Presentation Award for his talk ‘Inhibiting Paracrine Wnt-Beta-catenin Signaling to Augment the Efficacy of Anti-PD-1 Antibody Immunotherapy in Melanoma’ at the 2017 Annual Hematology/Oncology Fellows Research Retreat!
whatshotDr. Hanks receives Duke Health Scholars Award
Dr. Hanks was recently awarded the Duke Health Scholars Award from the Duke University Health System for his work in understanding the mechanisms of tumor-mediated immune evasion and immunotherapy resistance.
trending_upBala Theivanthiran, Ph.D. joins the Hanks Lab
Bala recently completed his training at the Baylor Institute for Immunology where he developed expertise in studying signaling pathways involved in innate immunity. He will be working on investigating pathways involved in tumor immunotherapy resistance while also developing novel dendritic cell-based vaccine strategies.
trending_upNick DeVito, M.D. joins the Hanks Lab
Nick DeVito recently completed his first year of clinical training in the Duke Hematology/Oncology Fellowship program. He has a longstanding interest in tumor immunology and will be focused on studying Wnt paracrine signaling in the tumor immune microenvironment.
whatshotDr. Hanks receives ACGT Young Investigator Award
Dr. Hanks was recently awarded the 2016 Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy Young Investigator Award for his novel approach for re-engineering dendritic cell-based cancer vaccines. This was developed based on Dr. Fei Zhao’s basic research efforts and will be conducted in collaboration with Dr. Smita Nair.
whatshotDr. Zhao receives Duke Cancer Institute Award
Dr. Fei Zhao was selected as one of eight up-and-coming scientists at the recent third annual DCI Scientific Retreat where he presented his work on tumor-mediated reprogramming of dendritic cell metabolism as a mechanism of immune evasion.
trending_upChristine Xiao joins the Hanks Lab
Christine Xiao B.S. joins the lab as a Research Technician II investigating novel combinatorial immunotherapy strategies.
Brent Hanks was awarded a NIH K08 grant for investigating tumor-mediated immune evasion mechanisms and a grant from Merck for studying immunotherapy resistance.
trending_upFei Zhao, Ph.D. joins the Hanks Lab
Dr. Fei Zhao recently completed his graduate work in Dr. Walter Klimecki's lab at the University of Arizona where he investigated arsenite induction of HIF-1A mediated aerobic glycolysis and the role of metabolism shift during malignant transformation in a human lung epithelial model. Fei will be focusing his post-doctoral research on dendritic cell metabolism in the tumor microenvironment.
whatshot Dr. Hanks was awarded the Duke-MRA Young Investigator Award
Increased immune responses in melanoma patients pre-treated with CDX-301, a recombinant human Flt3 ligand, prior to vaccination with CDX-1401, a dendritic cell targeting NY-ESO-1 vaccine, in a phase II study.
(2016) Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer. Washington, DC. 4(Suppl 1):P166.