Kristen E. Pauken, Ph.D.
Dr. Pauken received her Bachelor's of Science in Microbiology in 2007 from Colorado State University, where she studied how sand fly saliva impacted innate immunity to parasitic infection in the lab of Dr. Richard Titus. She then went on to receive her Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota in 2013 in the lab of Dr. Brian Fife, studying PD-1-mediated regulation of autoreactive CD4+ T cells during Type 1 Diabetes. Following completion of her Ph.D., Dr. Pauken moved to the University of Pennsylvania, examining how PD-1 blockade impacted exhausted CD8 + T cells in the lab of Dr. E. John Wherry. Here, Dr. Pauken made the seminal observation that T cell exhaustion represents its own unique cell state, fundamentally different at the epigenetic level than functional effector or memory cells that develop during acute infection. Importantly, PD-1 inhibitors were not capable of reprogramming this inflexible epigenetic state; rather, these inhibitors temporarily boosted effector activity of genes that were confined to the open chromatin landscape within exhausted T cells. In 2016, Dr. Pauken then went on to study in the lab of Dr. Arlene Sharpe at Harvard Medical School, where she focused on mechanisms of PD-1-mediated regulation of CD8 + T cells in cancer. In Dr. Sharpe’s lab, Dr. Pauken developed significant expertise in single cell RNA seq, and developed a method using single cell sequencing of the T cell receptor (TCR) to track T cell clones of interest based on having a shared TCR sequence between tissue types or treatment groups.
In her independent position, Dr. Pauken is combining her passion for exhaustion and tolerance, interrogating the mechanisms by which the immune system regulates the balance between protective immunity and immune-driven pathologies. The main goal of her lab is to better understand how PD-1 inhibitors regulate both protective and pathogenic CD8+ T cell responses, with the long-term goal of developing strategies to uncouple the protective effects of immunotherapy from the toxic side effects.
Vrushali Datar, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist
Dr. Datar completed her undergraduate studies in Biotechnology from IIT Mumbai , and her Ph.D. in Cancer Chemoprevention from Tata Cancer hospital and University of Mumbai.
Dr Datar has 18 yrs. of hands-on experience involving Molecular/Cancer biology, clinical data mgmt. and biomedicine and Cancer biology, Molecular Biology small molecule drug discovery experience working in a new hybrid multiinstitutional model adopting the bench at bedside approach.
In the Pauken lab, Dr. Datar seeks to continue her work in the field of Immunotherapy and Cancer biology.
This position is an extension of her Research in molecular biology, encompassing and combining her passion to further develop the mechanisms by which the immune system regulates the balance between protective immunity and immune-driven pathologies.
Dr. Datar oversees general project administration including all technical tasks, laboratory study collaborations, and ensures that administrative and operational aspects of projects are executed in alignment with program goals.
Research Assistant I
Autumn Sunderland completed her Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from the University of Toledo in 2022. Throughout her undergraduate degree, she completed research where she studied the effects of heat stress on the MAPK signaling pathway in ovarian cancer cells and studied the LATS and B-TrCP regulation of MLK3 in ovarian cancer cells. Ms. Sunderland participated in undergraduate fellowships in 2021 (the NIH NCI CSBC/PS-ON Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP)) and 2022 (The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center CPRIT-CURE Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP)). Upon completion of her degree, Ms. Sunderland started an RAI position in the lab of Dr. Pauken, where she plans to pursue her interests in cancer research through immunotherapy.