Gary Kohanbash, PhD

  • Assistant Professor
  • Director, PNIO Laboratory

Gary Kohanbash, PhD, joined the faculty of the Department of Neurological Surgery at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in January of 2017.

Dr. Kohanbash graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2007 with a bachelor of science honors degree in neuroscience, specializing in neurodegenerative diseases. He then earned his masters of science degree in infectious diseases and microbiology in 2009, and a doctorate in philosophy in 2012, both from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. While there, he identified novel pathways of immunosuppression in gliomas and participated in multiple phase I/II immunotherapy clinical trials.

Dr. Kohanbash subsequently completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Neurological Surgery in 2014. He continued his training as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Department of Neurological Surgery. While at UCSF, Dr. Kohanbash was privileged to complete a prestigious T32 training program in translational brain tumor research.

Dr. Kohanbash's publications can be reviewed through the National Library of Medicine's publication database.

Specialized Areas of Interest

Immunotherapy for pediatric and adult central nervous system tumors.

Professional Organization Membership

Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer
Society for Neuro-Oncology
World Molecular Imaging Society

Professional Activities

Faculty Assembly Member, University of Pittsburgh
Senate Library Committee, University of Pittsburgh
Senate Member, University of Pittsburgh
Scientific Committee Member, Childhood Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium
Study Section, St. Baldrick’s Foundation Fellowship
Study Section, American Brain Tumor Association

Education & Training

  • BS, (hons), Neuroscience, University of Pittsburgh, 2007
  • MS, Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, University of Pittsburgh, 2009
  • PhD, Brain Tumor Immunology, University of Pittsburgh, 2012
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh, 2014
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Neurological Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, 2016

Honors & Awards

  • Research Travel Award, Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer, 2014-15
  • Honoree, The Annual Convocation of the University of Pittsburgh, 2010, 2014
  • Best Dissertation Award, Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, University of Pittsburgh, 2013
  • Top Oral Presentation, Translational Research Cancer Center Consortium (TRCCC), 2013
  • International Research Travel Award, Japanese Society for Brain Tumor Pathology, 2012
  • Best Graduate Thesis Award, Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, University of Pittsburgh, 2010
  • Top Poster Award, Translational Research Cancer Center Consortium (TRCCC), 2009

Research Activities

Dr. Kohanbash’s research focuses on developing and improving immune-therapeutic strategies for brain tumors. Significant progress over the past decade has started to bridge the gap between basic science and clinical care of tumors, with key advances now making translation of new cancer therapies more feasible.

One key focus area of Dr. Kohanbash’s work addresses the major challenges facing cancer therapy in the current inability to monitor and deplete tumor-associated myeloid cells. His work developed an immunoPET strategy using a radiolabeled antibody to quantify myeloid cells in CNS cancer. Building upon this, he recently showed that myeloid cells could be imaged and targeted to improve therapy for gliomas using a new chelator and labeling with two separate radionuclide-labeled antibodies. This work is complemented by ongoing studies in the lab developing and evaluating immunoPET strategies to quantify T-cell activation and cytotoxicity to allow for early detection of immunotherapy responsiveness in CNS tumors. 

Another focus area of Dr. Kohanbash’s research includes the use of high-dimensional sequencing such as single cell RNAseq (scRNAseq) to identify rational immunotherapy combination strategies for adult and pediatric brain tumors and to better understand the complex immunobiology of brain tumors. Recently, he analyzed checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy for brain tumors and, through scRNAseq, demonstrated that multiple myeloid cell subtypes express specitic checkpoint receptors that he then validated in preclinical models.

In a separate study, Dr. Kohanbash performed bulk RNAseq on blood samples from immunotherapy treated oncology patients and revealed key biomarkers and molecular signatures of responders versus non-responders. A significant advancement in the field resulted from his prior work using scRNAseq to distinguish infiltrating macrophages from microglia in gliomas. Through ongoing collaborations he has demonstrated new and exciting phenotypes of proliferating glioma cells. His ongoing work includes using a single-cell RNAseq and single-cell TCR sequencing to develop both personalized and off-the-shelf T-cell receptor engineered T-cells (TCR-T) and adoptive cell therapy strategies for brain tumor patients.

Media Appearances