Willem W Overwijk

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas, United States

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Publications (75)557.89 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Interleukin (IL)-15 associates with IL-15Rα on the cell surface where it can be cleaved into soluble cytokine/receptor complexes that have the potential to stimulate CD8 T cells and NK cells. Unfortunately, little is known about the in vivo production of soluble IL-15Rα/IL-15 complexes (sIL-15 complexes), particularly regarding the circumstances that induce them and the mechanisms responsible. The main objective of this study was to elucidate the signals leading to the generation of sIL-15 complexes. In this study, we show that sIL-15 complexes are increased in the serum of mice in response to Interferon (IFN)-α. In bone marrow derived dendritic cells (BMDC), IFN-α increased the activity of ADAM17, a metalloproteinase implicated in cleaving IL-15 complexes from the cell surface. Moreover, knocking out ADAM17 in BMDCs prevented the ability of IFN-α to induce sIL-15 complexes demonstrating ADAM17 as a critical protease mediating cleavage of IL-15 complexes in response to type I IFNs. Type I IFN signaling was required for generating sIL-15 complexes as in vivo induction of sIL-15 complexes by Poly I:C stimulation or total body irradiation (TBI) was impaired in IFNAR-/- mice. Interestingly, serum sIL-15 complexes were also induced in mice infected with Vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) or mice treated with agonistic CD40 antibodies; however, sIL-15 complexes were still induced in IFNAR-/- mice after VSV infection or CD40 stimulation indicating pathways other than type I IFNs induce sIL-15 complexes. Overall, this study has shown that type I IFNs, VSV infection, and CD40 stimulation induce sIL-15 complexes suggesting the generation of sIL-15 complexes is a common event associated with immune activation. These findings reveal an unrealized mechanism for enhanced immune responses occurring during infection, vaccination, inflammation, and autoimmunity.
    PLoS ONE 03/2015; 10(3):e0120274. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0120274 · 3.53 Impact Factor
  • Willem W Overwijk
    Nature Medicine 01/2015; 21(1):12-4. DOI:10.1038/nm.3783 · 28.05 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Intratumoral immune activation can induce local and systemic antitumor immunity. Imiquimod is a cream-formulated, TLR7 agonist that is Food and Drug Administration approved for the treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancers, but it has limited activity against melanoma. We studied the antitumor activity and mechanism of action of a novel, injectable, tissue-retained TLR7/8 agonist, 3M-052, which avoids systemic distribution. Intratumoral administration of 3M-052 generated systemic antitumor immunity and suppressed both injected and distant, uninjected wild-type B16.F10 melanomas. Treated tumors showed that an increased level of CCL2 chemokines and infiltration of M1 phenotype-shifted macrophages, which could kill tumor cells directly through production of NO and CCL2, were essential for the antitumor activity of 3M-052. CD8(+) T cells, B cells, type I IFN, IFN-γ, and plasmacytoid dendritic cells were contributed to efficient tumor suppression, whereas perforin, NK cells, and CD4 T cells were not required. Finally, 3M-052 therapy potentiated checkpoint blockade therapy with anti-CTLA-4 and anti-programmed death ligand 1 Abs, even when checkpoint blockade alone was ineffective. Our findings suggest that intratumoral treatment with 3M-052 is a promising approach for the treatment of cancer and establish a rational strategy and mechanistic understanding for combination therapy with intratumoral, tissue-retained TLR7/8 agonist and checkpoint blockade in metastatic cancer.
    The Journal of Immunology 09/2014; DOI:10.4049/jimmunol.1401160 · 5.36 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The role of inflammation in cancer has been reported in various adult malignant neoplasms. By contrast, its role in pediatric tumors has not been as well studied. In this study, we have identified and characterized the infiltration of various inflammatory immune cells as well as inflammatory markers in Wilms tumor (WT), the most common renal malignancy in children. Formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded blocks from tumors and autologous normal kidneys were immunostained for inflammatory immune cells (T cells, B cells, macrophages, neutrophils, and mast cells) and inflammatory markers such as cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), hypoxia-inducible factor 1α, phosphorylated STAT3, phosphorylated extracellular signal–related kinases 1 and 2, inducible nitric oxide synthase, nitrotyrosine, and vascular endothelial growth factor expression. Overall, we found that there was predominant infiltration of tumor-associated macrophages in the tumor stroma where COX-2 was robustly expressed. The other tumor-associated inflammatory markers were also mostly localized to tumor stroma. Hence, we speculate that COX-2–mediated inflammatory microenvironment may be important in WT growth and potential therapies targeting this pathway may be beneficial and should be tested in clinical settings for the treatment of WTs in children.
    Translational oncology 08/2014; DOI:10.1016/j.tranon.2014.05.008 · 3.40 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Immune evasion is an emerging hallmark of cancer progression. However, functional studies to understand the role of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) in the tumor microenvironment are limited by the lack of available specific cell surface markers. We adapted a competitive peptide phage display platform to identify candidate peptides binding MDSCs specifically and generated peptide-Fc fusion proteins (peptibodies). In multiple tumor models, intravenous peptibody injection completely depleted blood, splenic and intratumoral MDSCs in tumor-bearing mice without affecting proinflammatory immune cell types, such as dendritic cells. Whereas control Gr-1-specific antibody primarily depleted granulocytic MDSCs, peptibodies depleted both granulocytic and monocytic MDSC subsets. Peptibody treatment was associated with inhibition of tumor growth in vivo, which was superior to that achieved with Gr-1-specific antibody. Immunoprecipitation of MDSC membrane proteins identified S100 family proteins as candidate targets. Our strategy may be useful to identify new diagnostic and therapeutic surface targets on rare cell subtypes, including human MDSCs.
    Nature Medicine 05/2014; 20(6). DOI:10.1038/nm.3560 · 28.05 Impact Factor
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    Yared Hailemichael, Willem W Overwijk
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    ABSTRACT: Cancer vaccines can induce robust activation of tumor-specific CD8+ T cells that can destroy tumors. Understanding the mechanism by which cancer vaccines work is essential in designing next-generation vaccines with more potent therapeutic activity. We recently reported that short peptides emulsified in poorly biodegradable, Incomplete Freund's Adjuvant (IFA) primed CD8+ T cells that did not localize to the tumor site but accumulated at the persisting, antigen-rich vaccination site. The vaccination site eventually became a T cell graveyard where T cells responded to chronically released gp100 peptide by releasing cytokines, including interferon - γ (IFN-γ), which in turn upregulated Fas ligand (FasL) on host cells, causing apoptosis of Fas(+) T cells. T cells that escaped apoptosis rapidly became exhausted, memory formation was poor, and therapeutic impact was minimal. Replacing the non-biodegradable IFA-based formulation with water-based, short-lived formulation in the presence of immunostimulatory molecules allowed T cells to traffic to tumors, causing their regression. In this review, we discuss recent advances in immunotherapeutic approaches that could enhance vaccine-primed immune cells fitness and render the tumor microenvironment more accessible for immune cell infiltration.
    The international journal of biochemistry & cell biology 05/2014; 53. DOI:10.1016/j.biocel.2014.04.019 · 4.89 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: T cells can mediate remarkable tumor regressions including complete cure in patients with metastatic cancer. Genetic alterations in an individual’s cancer cells (the mutanome) encode unique peptides (m-peptides) that can be targets for T cells. The recent advances in next-generation sequencing and computation prediction allows, for the first time, the rapid and affordable identification of m-peptides in individual patients. Despite excitement about the extended spectrum of potential targets in personalized immunotherapy, there is no experience or consensus on the path to their successful clinical application. Major questions remain, such as whether clinical responses to cytokine therapy, T cell transfer, and checkpoint blockade are primarily mediated by m-peptide-specific reactivity, whether m-peptides can be effectively used as vaccines, and which m-peptides are most potently recognized. These and other technological, immunological and translational questions will be explored during a 1-day Workshop on Personalized Cancer Immunotherapy by the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer, directly before the Annual Meeting, on November 7, 2013 at the National Harbor, MD near Washington, DC.
    07/2013; 1(1). DOI:10.1186/2051-1426-1-11
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    Yared Hailemichael, Willem W Overwijk
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    ABSTRACT: Poorly biodegradable, incomplete Freund's adjuvant (IFA)-based anticancer vaccines primed CD8(+) T cells that did not localize to the tumor site but to the persisting, antigen-rich vaccination site, which became a T-cell graveyard. Short-lived, water-based formulations and the provision of immunostimulatory molecules overcame this issue, resulting in tumor suppression. Here, we discuss the implications of these findings for the development of therapeutic anticancer vaccines.
    OncoImmunology 07/2013; 2(7):e24743. DOI:10.4161/onci.24743 · 6.28 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Peptide vaccination against tumor-associated antigens remains one of the most common methods of immunization in cancer vaccine clinical trials. Although peptide vaccination has been reported to increase circulating antigen-specific T-cells, they have had limited clinical efficacy and there is a necessity to increase their capacity to generate strong antitumor responses. We sought to improve the clinical efficacy of peptide-based vaccines in cancer immunotherapy of metastatic melanoma using a LHRH agonist (leuprolide) as adjuvant. Seventy HLA-A*0201 stage IIb-IV melanoma patients were vaccinated with class I HLA-A*0201-restricted gp100209-2M peptide and stratified for HLA-DP4 restriction. HLA-DP4 patients were also vaccinated with class II HLA-DP4-restricted MAGE-3243-258 peptide. Patients from both groups were randomized to receive 2 doses of leuprolide or not. Here we report the increase in PBMC TREC levels at week 24 after peptide vaccination, which was independent of the leuprolide treatment. This change was mirrored by a small increase in the TREC-enriched CD8CD45RAROCD27CD103, but not the TREC-enriched CD4CD45RAROCD31 T-cell population. Serum concentration of 2 important factors for thymopoiesis was measured: insulin growth factor 1 (IGF-1) levels were not changed, whereas a moderate increase in IL-7 levels was noted in the sera of all patients 6 weeks after vaccination. Increased expression of CD127 (IL-7 receptor-α) at week 24, compared with baseline, was only seen in the CD8CD45RAROCD27CD103 T-cell population. Our results suggest that leuprolide has no effect on thymic output when used as peptide vaccine adjuvant, but IFA-based peptide vaccination may unexpectedly affect the thymus by increasing thymic output of new T cells.
    Journal of immunotherapy (Hagerstown, Md.: 1997) 05/2013; 36(4):276-86. DOI:10.1097/CJI.0b013e31829419f3 · 3.20 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: To understand why cancer vaccine-induced T cells often do not eradicate tumors, we studied immune responses in mice vaccinated with gp100 melanoma peptide in incomplete Freund's adjuvant (peptide/IFA), which is commonly used in clinical cancer vaccine trials. Peptide/IFA vaccination primed tumor-specific CD8+ T cells, which accumulated not in tumors but rather at the persisting, antigen-rich vaccination site. Once there, primed T cells became dysfunctional and underwent antigen-driven, interferon-γ (IFN-γ)- and Fas ligand (FasL)-mediated apoptosis, resulting in hyporesponsiveness to subsequent vaccination. Provision of CD40-specific antibody, Toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7) agonist and interleukin-2 (IL-2) reduced T cell apoptosis but did not prevent vaccination-site sequestration. A nonpersisting vaccine formulation shifted T cell localization toward tumors, inducing superior antitumor activity while reducing systemic T cell dysfunction and promoting memory formation. These data show that persisting vaccine depots can induce specific T cell sequestration, dysfunction and deletion at vaccination sites; short-lived formulations may overcome these limitations and result in greater therapeutic efficacy of peptide-based cancer vaccines.
    Nature medicine 03/2013; 19(4). DOI:10.1038/nm.3105 · 28.05 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: PURPOSE: To evaluate the effects BRAF inhibition on the tumor microenvironment in patients with metastatic melanoma. EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: Thirty-five biopsies were collected from 16 patients with metastatic melanoma pretreatment (day 0) and at 10-14 days after initiation of treatment with either BRAF inhibitor alone (vemurafenib) or BRAF + MEK inhibition (dabrafenib + trametinib), and were also taken at time of progression. Biopsies were analyzed for melanoma antigens, T cell markers, and immunomodulatory cytokines. RESULTS: Treatment with either BRAF inhibitor alone or BRAF + MEK inhibitor was associated with an increased expression of melanoma antigens and an increase in CD8+ T cell infiltrate. This was also associated with a decrease in immunosuppressive cytokines (IL-6 & IL-8) and an increase in markers of T cell cytotoxicity. Interestingly, expression of exhaustion markers TIM-3 and PD1 and the immunosuppressive ligand PDL1 were increased on treatment. A decrease in melanoma antigen expression and CD8 T cell infiltrate was noted at time of progression on BRAF inhibitor alone, and was reversed with combined BRAF and MEK inhibition. CONCLUSIONS: Together, this data suggests that treatment with BRAF inhibition enhances melanoma antigen expression and facilitates T cell cytotoxicity and a more favorable tumor microenvironment, providing support for potential synergy of BRAF-targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Interestingly, markers of T cell exhaustion and the immunosuppressive ligand PDL1 are also increased with BRAF inhibition, further implying that immune checkpoint blockade may be critical in augmenting responses to BRAF-targeted therapy in patients with melanoma.
    Clinical Cancer Research 01/2013; 19(5). DOI:10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-12-1630 · 8.19 Impact Factor
  • 01/2013; 1(Suppl 1):P89. DOI:10.1186/2051-1426-1-S1-P89
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    ABSTRACT: PURPOSE: Treatment of melanoma patients with selective BRAF inhibitors results in objective clinical responses in the majority of patients with BRAF mutant tumors. However, resistance to these inhibitors develops within a few months. In this study, we test the hypothesis that BRAF inhibition in combination with adoptive T-cell transfer (ACT) will be more effective at inducing long-term clinical regressions of BRAF-mutant tumors. EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: BRAF-mutated human melanoma tumor cell lines transduced to express gp100 and H-2Db to allow recognition by gp100-specific pmel-1 T-cells were used as xenograft models to assess melanocyte differentiation antigen-independent enhancement of immune responses by BRAF inhibitor PLX4720. Luciferase expressing pmel-1 T cells were generated to monitor T-cell migration in vivo. The expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) was determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, protein array and immunohistochemistry. Importantly, VEGF expression after BRAF inhibition was tested in a set of patient samples. RESULTS: We found that administration of PLX4720 significantly increased tumor infiltration of adoptively transferred T cells in vivo and enhanced the antitumor activity of ACT. This increased T-cell infiltration was primarily mediated by the ability of PLX4720 to inhibit melanoma tumor cell production of VEGF by reducing the binding of c-myc to the VEGF promoter. Furthermore, analysis of human melanoma patient tumor biopsies before and during BRAF inhibitor treatment showed downregulation of VEGF consistent with the pre-clinical murine model. CONCLUSIONS: These findings provide a strong rationale to evaluate the potential clinical application of combining BRAF inhibition with T-cell based immunotherapy for the treatment of melanoma patients.
    Clinical Cancer Research 11/2012; 19(2). DOI:10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-12-1626 · 8.19 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Melanoma, due to its metastatic rate, is among the most aggressive forms of skin cancer. Human formyl peptide receptor (FPR) and its variant FPR-like 1 (FPRL1) have been associated with cell migration and invasiveness in neoplasms. We have studied the in situ expression of these receptors in a large series of melanocytic lesions and correlated the expression with clinicopathological features and prognosis. Tissue microarray blocks of 141 cases including nevi (31 cases), primary (84 cases), and metastatic melanomas (26 cases) were semiquantitatively evaluated by immunohistochemistry for the expression of FPR and FPRL1 proteins. A significant association was observed regarding diagnosis and percentage of cells showing expression of FPR (P = 0.0311) and FPRL1 (P = 0.0053). A gain of FPR immunoreactivity was observed in the lesions having ulceration (P = 0.0194) and Breslow thickness (P = 0.044). Also, high FPRL1 cytoplasmic immunoreactivity was seen in lesions without tumor regression (P = 0.04). In addition, in patients with increased cytoplasmic staining for FPR, the probability of disease-specific survival was significantly lower (log rank test, P = 0.0089). Our findings reveal that FPR and FPRL1 are overexpressed in primary melanoma and correlate with aggressive tumor characteristics, underscoring them as potential therapeutic targets.
    The American Journal of dermatopathology 11/2012; 35(2). DOI:10.1097/DAD.0b013e31825b2506 · 1.30 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: For many years, immunotherapeutic approaches for cancer held more promise than actual clinical benefit for the majority of patients. However, several recent key advances in tumor immunology have now turned the tide in favor of immunotherapy for the treatment of many different cancer types. In this review, we describe four of the most effective immunotherapeutic approaches currently used in the clinic: cancer vaccines, immunostimulatory agents, adoptive T cell therapy, and immune checkpoint blockade. In addition, we discuss some of the most promising future strategies that aim to utilize multiple immunotherapies or combine them with other approaches to more effectively target cancer. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Medicine Volume 64 is January 07, 2013. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/catalog/pubdates.aspx for revised estimates.
    Annual review of medicine 10/2012; DOI:10.1146/annurev-med-112311-083918 · 9.94 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Targeted and immune-based therapies are thought to eradicate cancer cells by different mechanisms, and these approaches could possibly complement each other when used in combination. In this study, we report that the in vivo anti-tumor effects of the c-KIT inhibitor, dasatinib, on the c-KIT mutant P815 mastocytoma tumor were substantially dependent on T cell-mediated immunity. We found that dasatinib treatment significantly decreased levels of Tregs while specifically enhancing tumor antigen-specific T cell responses. We sought to further enhance this therapy with the addition of anti-OX40 antibody, which is known to provide a potent co-stimulatory signal to T cells. The combination of dasatinib and anti-OX40 antibody resulted in substantially better therapeutic efficacy compared with either drug alone, and this was associated with enhanced accumulation of tumor antigen-specific T cells in the tumor microenvironment. Furthermore, the combination regimen inhibited the function of Tregs and also resulted in significantly up-regulated expression of the IFN-γ-induced chemokines CXCL9, 10 and 11 in the tumor microenvironment, which provides a feasible mechanism for the enhanced intratumoral CTL infiltration. These studies delineate a strategy by which targeted therapy and immunotherapy may be combined in order to achieve superior anti-tumor responses in cancer patients.
    Blood 08/2012; DOI:10.1182/blood-2012-02-407163 · 9.78 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Adoptive cell transfer (ACT) is considered a promising modality for cancer treatment, but despite ongoing improvements, many patients do not experience clinical benefits. The tumor microenvironment is an important limiting factor in immunotherapy that has not been addressed fully in ACT treatments. In this study, we report that upregualtion of the immunosuppressive receptor programmed cell death-1 (PD-1) expressed on transferred T cells at the tumor site, in a murine model of ACT, compared with its expression on transferred T cells present in the peripheral blood and spleen. As PD-1 can attenuate T-cell-mediated antitumor responses, we tested whether its blockade with an anti-PD-1 antibody could enhance the antitumor activity of ACT in this model. Cotreatment with both agents increased the number of transferred T cells at the tumor site and also enhanced tumor regressions, compared with treatments with either agent alone. While anti-PD-1 did not reduce the number of immunosuppressive regulatory T cells and myeloid-derived suppressor cells present in tumor-bearing mice, we found that it increased expression of IFN-γ and CXCL10 at the tumor site. Bone marrow-transplant experiments using IFN-γR-/- mice implicated IFN-γ as a crucial nexus for controlling PD-1-mediated tumor infiltration by T cells. Taken together, our results imply that blocking the PD-1 pathway can increase IFN-γ at the tumor site, thereby increasing chemokine-dependent trafficking of immune cells into malignant disease sites. Cancer Res; 72(20); 5209-18. ©2012 AACR.
    Cancer Research 08/2012; 72(20):5209-18. DOI:10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-12-1187 · 9.28 Impact Factor
  • Cancer Research 06/2012; 72(8 Supplement):4385-4385. DOI:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2012-4385 · 9.28 Impact Factor
  • Cancer Research 06/2012; 72(8 Supplement):5396-5396. DOI:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2012-5396 · 9.28 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Inducible NO synthase (iNOS) is a hallmark of chronic inflammation that is also overexpressed in melanoma and other cancers. Whereas iNOS is a known effector of myeloid-derived suppressor cell (MDSC)-mediated immunosuppression, its pivotal position at the interface of inflammation and cancer also makes it an attractive candidate regulator of MDSC recruitment. We hypothesized that tumor-expressed iNOS controls MDSC accumulation and acquisition of suppressive activity in melanoma. CD11b(+)GR1(+) MDSC derived from mouse bone marrow cells cultured in the presence of MT-RET-1 mouse melanoma cells or conditioned supernatants expressed STAT3 and reactive oxygen species (ROS) and efficiently suppressed T cell proliferation. Inhibition of tumor-expressed iNOS with the small molecule inhibitor L-NIL blocked accumulation of STAT3/ROS-expressing MDSC, and abolished their suppressive function. Experiments with vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-depleting Ab and recombinant VEGF identified a key role for VEGF in the iNOS-dependent induction of MDSC. These findings were further validated in mice bearing transplantable MT-RET-1 melanoma, in which L-NIL normalized elevated serum VEGF levels; downregulated activated STAT3 and ROS production in MDSC; and reversed tumor-mediated immunosuppression. These beneficial effects were not observed in iNOS knockout mice, suggesting L-NIL acts primarily on tumor- rather than host-expressed iNOS to regulate MDSC function. A significant decrease in tumor growth and a trend toward increased tumor-infiltrating CD8(+) T cells were also observed in MT-RET transgenic mice bearing spontaneous tumors. These data suggest a critical role for tumor-expressed iNOS in the recruitment and induction of functional MDSC by modulation of tumor VEGF secretion and upregulation of STAT3 and ROS in MDSC.
    The Journal of Immunology 04/2012; 188(11):5365-76. DOI:10.4049/jimmunol.1103553 · 5.36 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

5k Citations
557.89 Total Impact Points


  • 2005–2015
    • University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
      • Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology
      Houston, Texas, United States
  • 2013
    • University of Miami
      كورال غيبلز، فلوريدا, Florida, United States
  • 2005–2006
    • Netherlands Cancer Institute
      • Division of Immunology
      Amsterdam, North Holland, Netherlands
  • 1996–2003
    • National Institutes of Health
      • Branch of Surgery
      Maryland, United States
  • 1999–2002
    • National Cancer Institute (USA)
      • Surgery Branch
      Maryland, United States
  • 2000
    • University of Padova
      Padua, Veneto, Italy
  • 1997–1999
    • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
      • Laboratory of Immunoregulation
      Maryland, United States