PNIO Laboratory

The Pediatric Neurosurgery ImmunoOncology Laboratory (PNIO) at the University of Pittsburgh, under the direction of Gary Kohanbash, PhD, seeks to develop novel immuno-oncology approaches to treat deadly pediatric central nervous system tumors. With over a decade of experience in translational brain tumor immunology and involvement in numerous clinical trials, the laboratory has a specific focus on high-grade and low-grade gliomas, and diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG).

It is now known that immune cells can traffic into the central nervous system (CNS) and mediate anti-tumor responses. However, owing to its immune-privileged status and delicate brain structures, safety and efficacy must be considered in a different manner than tumors occurring outside of the CNS. With significant developments in next-generation sequencing, novel targets targeting pediatric CNS tumors are being identified.

The PNIO seeks to bridge the gaps between bioinformatics, non-invasive PET imaging, theranostics, preclinical studies, and patient care. Specific emphasis in the PNIO involve improving peptide vaccine immunotherapy through the following projects:

Identification of novel targetable tumor antigens and neoantigens.

  • Employing novel combination therapies with peptide vaccine immunotherapy.
  • Identification of biomarkers for CNS immuno-oncology clinical trials.
  • Development of non-invasive immunoPET imaging of activated T-cells to predict response or resistance to immunotherapy.
  • Theranostic targeting and monitoring of tumor-associated myeloid cells (TAMCs) including MDSCs and TAMs in brain tumors.
  • Single-cell RNA-sequencing to identify immune-cell and tumor cross-talk as well as T-cell clonal expansion.
  • Development of T-cell receptor engineered T-cell (TCR-T) adoptive cell therapies
  • Generation of intraoperative molecular imaging (IMI) agents 
  • Applying targeted radiopharmaceutical therapy (RPT) to reduce immune-suppression in brain tumors.