Amy Heimberger, M.D.
Amy Heimberger, M.D., is a professor of Neurosurgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center and has been part of the faculty here since 2002. She has an extensive research program focused on immune therapeutic strategies for gliomapatients and studies tumor-mediated mechanisms of immune suppression. Her laboratory was pivotal in the development of a peptide (PEP-3-KLH/CDX-110) vaccine strategy that targets the epidermal growth factor receptor.
In addition, Heimberger has clarified that the signal transducer and activator of the transcription3 (STAT3) pathway is a key molecular hub of gliomagenesis and tumor-mediated immune suppression. She also conducted the pre-clinical development of a novel small molecule inhibitor of STAT3, WP1066, which will be introduced into clinical trials in 2018 for melanoma patients with CNS metastasis and primary glioma patients. Furthermore, she showed that tumor-associated microglia/macrophages potentiate gliomagenesis via STAT3 and established that the glioma-associated cancer stem cells via the STAT3 pathway exert immune suppressive properties on both the adaptive and innate arms of the immune system.
Heimberger is the only MD Anderson faculty member to be awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. She holds multiple NIH and foundation grants and is a project leader in both the Brain and Melanoma SPOREs. She is a leader of the Glioblastoma Moon Shot™. Heimberger has a clinical interest in awake mapping and resection of gliomas within eloquent cortex. She has been named by U.S. News and World Report as a Top Doc.
Sanaalarab Al Enazy, Ph.D.
Sanaalarab Al Enazy received her pharmacy degree from The Female
King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and her Ph.D. from The
University of Texas Medical School at Galveston. She developed several
lead pharmaceutical drugs that involved targeted delivery of small
molecules using nanoparticles to treat severe persistent asthma,
epilepsy, and breast cancer in addition to developing novel nano-sized
pharmaceutical formulations for treating fibroids, fetal hydrops and
She defended her dissertation in November 2017 and joined the Heimberger laboratory shortly thereafter in January 2018 to pursue her postdoctoral training under Heimberger’s supervision in the department of neurosurgery. She is applying her expertise in pharmaceutical science, biomedical engineering, molecular biology, chemical synthesis and toxicology toward the development and screening of nanoparticles for delivering immune modulators as targeted immune therapeutics to treat malignancies.
Emily Barton, Ph.D.
Emily Barton received her master’s degree and Ph.D. in developmental, cognitive, and behavioral neuroscience from the University of Houston. Her graduate work focused on the glial response to the interaction of binge alcohol consumption and exercise, with an emphasis on examining functional outcomes and sex differences in microglial morphology and MHCII expression. She defended her dissertation in 2017 and joined the Heimberger laboratory shortly thereafter to explore the use of CAR T cells as targeted immunotherapy against glioblastoma.
Hillary Caruso, Ph.D.
Hillary Caruso received her bachelor's degree in biology from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas in 2007. She began her Ph.D. study at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences under the mentorship of Laurence Cooper, M.D., Ph.D. Her dissertation focused on genetic engineering of human T cells to redirect their specificity to tumor associated antigen expressed on glioblastoma via introduction of a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) and mechanisms to reduce CAR T cell mediated toxicity to normal tissues. She completed her Ph.D. in immunology following defense of her dissertation describing this work in 2014. In 2015, Caruso joined the lab of Amy Heimberger, M.D., to continue pre-clinical development of specialized CAR T cells for immunotherapy of glioblastoma.
Cynthia Kassab, M.D.
Cynthia Kassab earned her bachelor's degree in biology from Lebanese University in 2009 and her medical degree from Holy Spirit University in Kaslik, Lebanon, in 2017. While earning her M.D., she completed two years of clinical training and research at the NDS hospital in Lebanon. Her dissertation focused on the prevalence and age at time of diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer and latest targeted therapies in that field. Cynthia joined Heimberger’s lab in October 2017 and will be working on a topographical atlas project for glioblastoma.
Ling-Yuan Kong, M.D., Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist
Ling-Yuan Kong received her medical degree and master's degree in toxicology from China. She also holds a doctorate in immunology from the United Kingdom of Great Britain. After further trainings in neuro-immunology at Duke University and neuro-pharmacology at the NIEHS/NIH, she worked part-time at Stehlin Foundation for Cancer Research in Houston as a research associate.
In July of 2002, Kong joined a team led by Nicholas Donato, Ph.D., and Moshe Talpaz, M.D., in the Bioimmunotherapy department at MD Anderson Cancer Center as a research scientist. In November of 2006, Kong joined Heimberger’s laboratory in the Neurosurgery department at MD Anderson and is currently a senior research scientist. She has over 10 years of experience working with STAT3 modulation with small molecule inhibitors, especially extensively studying the immune properties of WP1066 and related analogues both in vitro and in vivo.
Xiaoyang Ling, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist
Xiaoyang (John) Ling received his Ph.D. in molecular biology from China. He came to MD Anderson Cancer Center in 2000 and joined the Molecular Pathology and Leukemia department. There he studied the pSTAT3 singling pathway and its role in breast cancer oncogenesis. In 2012 he joined Heimberger’s lab to investigate the role of the immune system in glioblastoma. Ling is working to elucidate how immune cells function in the context of glioma in an elegant genetic CD8 knockout murine model. Using this model he is now dissecting the interactions among different immune population during GBM development.
Anantha Marisetty, Ph.D.
Anantha Marisetty received her bachelor’s degree in biotechnology at Nagarjuna University in India. She moved to the United States and obtained her master’s degree in biotechnology from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, where she studied a novel Ca2+/ Calmodulin–dependent protein kinase cascade that regulates blood stem cell growth and development. Along with academic research, she was involved in industrial training at Acambis Inc., a subsidiary of Sanofi Pasteur, where she was involved in generating a peptide library and validation of humoral responses for a lead vaccine candidate.
In 2009, she joined the laboratory of Sadhan Majumder, Ph.D. in the Genetics department at MD Anderson to study the role and mechanism by which REST regulates tumorigenesis in glioblastoma stem cells. She graduated with a Ph.D. in May 2015. In July 2015, she started her first postdoctoral fellowship under the supervision of Heimberger to investigate the genes regulating GBM immune suppression and activation.
Felix Nwajei, M.D.
Felix Nwajei is a Ph.D. candidate in the Immunology department of The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston. He completed his pre-medical requirements in 2003 at the University of Lagos, and earned a medical degree in 2008 from the College of Medicine University of Lagos, in Nigeria. He went on to complete a medical/surgical internship and some training in neurosurgery at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. Subsequently, he was awarded a grant by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons Section on Tumor/Brainlab in 2010, to complete a research fellowship under the mentorship of Frederick Lang, M.D., in the Neurosurgery department at MD Anderson Cancer Center. There he evaluated the biology of therapeutic mesenchymal stem cells in genetically engineered glioma models, including the Ntv-a model.
Nwajei joined the immunology program at MD Anderson in 2012 under the mentorship of Tomasz Zal, Ph.D., and took on a challenging focus of visualizing and understanding the dynamics of immune response toward brain mestastases, despite the still prevailing notion of brain immune-privilege. More recently, Nwajei began collaborating with Heimberger to visualize the impact of clinical trial grade immunotherapeutics on the kinetics of immune cells in glioma progression, in the brain microenvironment.
Martina Ott, Ph.D.
Martina Ott received her diploma degree in biology from the Julius-Maximilians-University of Würzburg in Germany. In 2009 she started her Ph.D. study at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)/ Ruprecht-Karls-University of Heidelberg, Germany in the Clinical Cooperation Unit Neuroimmunology and Brain Tumor Immunology under the mentorship of Michael Platten, M.D. to investigate signaling pathways contributing to the development and the immunosuppressive behavior of gliomas.
After defending her dissertation in 2013, she continued her work in Platten’s laboratory as postdoctoral researcher, focusing on the preclinical development and characterization of new immunotherapeutic strategies in malignant glioma, as well as identifying and characterizing immunogenic mutations in glioma patients for new targets in immunotherapy. She joined Heimberger’s lab in November 2015 to explore immunoregulatory microRNAs as new therapeutic agents and performs comprehensive analysis on patient-derived immune cells.
Jun Wei, M.D., Ph.D.
Jun Wei received his medical degree at Beijing University in 1996 and his doctorate at Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry of Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2001. After working on screening and identification of molecules modulating tumor invasion and metastasis with Scott Goode, Ph.D. at Baylor College of Medicine, he continued and completed his postdoctoral training in the Immunology department at MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he investigated new strategies of T cells for cancer immune therapy. In December 2007, Wei joined Heimberger’s lab as an instructor in the Neurosurgery department. He explores new immune therapeutic agents and approaches for brain tumor patients and studies the mechanisms of their immune modulation.
Key Lab Collaborators
- Pratip Bhattacharya, Ph.D. - Imaging tumor inflammation with hyperpolorized MRI; Bhattacharya Laboratory
- George Calin, M.D., Ph.D. - Immune modulatory microRNAs; Calin Laboratory
- Laurence Cooper, M.D., Ph.D. - EGFR CAR T cells
- Vidya Gopalakrishnan, Ph.D. - NK Immunotherapy
- Elizabeth Grimm, Ph.D. - Immuntherapeutic strategies for CNS melanoma
- Shulin Li, Ph.D. - Fgl2 immune suppression in glioblastoma; Li Laboratory
- Willem Overwijk, Ph.D. - Immune adjuvants and combinatorial approaches
- Waldemar Priebe, Ph.D. - Small molecule inhibitors of STAT3 (WP1066)
- Ganesh Rao, M.D. - Genetically engineered murine models of glioma and immune knock outs
- Katy Rezvani, M.D., Ph.D. - CMV-targeted Immunotherapy
- Tomasz Zal, Ph.D. - Intravital multiphoton microscopy of CNS tumors