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Xanne H

- Research Program Mentor

PhD at Duke University

Expertise

Immunology, brain tumor; T cell exhaustion; immunotherary; clinical trials; CRISPR technology, gene therapy, immune cell recovery following bone marrow transplant

Bio

After I completed my MD in 2016, I realized that I wanted to do research to develop new treatment strategies. I quickly realized that I wanted to focus on immunology because the immune system is involved in basically every disease. I love the complexity of the way a body mounts an immune response against invaders and, at the same time, prevents the immune system from attacking its own tissues (most of the time). After joining my lab at Duke, I started studying the immune response to brain cancer. Ultimately, I hope that my findings help make treatments for brain cancer patients more effective. Although my focus in my PhD was on the immune response to cancer, my training included the whole immune system, and I love talking about other immune-related diseases, including autoimmune diseases and vaccine strategies. Since I graduated from my PhD program, I have joined another lab at Duke and will focus on more systemic immune dysfunction in various brain pathologies. A little bit of personal information about me. As mentioned above, I have completed a bachelors of science (2011), medical school (MD 2016) and a PhD (2024). I am originally from the Netherlands but have lived in the US for more than 10 years. I love to watch sports (particularly baseball and football) and being outside (hiking, camping). I recently started rock climbing!

Project ideas

Project ideas are meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.

Literature review on understanding T cell exhaustion in cancer

The immune system is very good at detecting invaders (bacteria, viruses, parasites). Over the last couple of years, we have also learned that the immune system provides an important protection against the development of cancer. Unfortunately, sometimes the immune system is unable to completely destroy a tumor. When this happens, the immune system will be continuously activated and this results in an "exhausted" cell. This exhausted cell is less capable to destroying tumor cells, allowing the tumor to grow and spread. Writing a review on this topic will provide you with a thorough understanding of many aspects of immunology and gives you the opportunity to publish in a journal like Emerging investigators (or others)

Gene editing as a treatment for sickle cell disease

Sickle cell anemia is a debilitating disease that causes patients excruciating pain, among many other symptoms. Patients with sickle cell disease often have shorter life spans than healthy people. Interestingly, sickle cell anemia is caused by a single nucleotide mutation in the DNA. This has led researchers to try to cure the disease by fixing the mutation on a genetic level using a relatively new technique called CRISPR. This technique allows us to make very specific edits to the DNA that can result in a lifelong cure. Writing a review on this topic will provide you with a thorough understanding of many aspects of genetic diseases and gene editing approaches and gives you the opportunity to publish in a journal like Emerging investigators (or others)

Immunotherapy as a treatment for cancer

Ever since scientists discovered that the immune system is capable of fighting cancer, treatments harnessing its power have been developed. One of the main cell types responsible for fighting tumors are T cells. Researchers have been successful in making T cells from a patient specific for the tumor. These treatments are called CARs (chimeric antigen receptors) and have been very successful, especially against blood cancers (such as leukemia). Another potential treatment is to treat patients with immune checkpoint blockade, such as anti-PD1 or anti-CTLA4. When T cells are present in the tumor for an extended period of time, they increase the expression of receptors (such as PD1 and CTLA4) that can decrease T cell function and make them less capable of destroying tumors. Immune checkpoint blockade can reduce this negative signaling, making T cells more functional. Writing a review on this topic will provide you with a thorough understanding of many aspects of immunology and gives you the opportunity to publish in a journal like Emerging investigators (or others)

Understanding how cells in the tumor affect tumor growth

When researchers evaluate the cells present in a tumor, there are generally two main classes: cells that help the tumor grow (pro-tumor) and those that try to destroy the tumor (anti-tumor). As we start to learn more about which cell types are present in the tumor, we start to understand how the tumor evades our bodies natural defenses. These insights can also be used to develop new treatment strategies for patients with cancer. Writing a review on this topic will provide you with a thorough understanding of many aspects of immunology and gives you the opportunity to publish in a journal like Emerging investigators (or others)

Understanding autoimmune diseases

The immune system is a very complicated organ. The development of immune cells is very tightly regulated with multiple fail-safe mechanisms in place. The immune system needs to be able to respond to any foreign pathogen, but at the same time cannot attack our own bodies. Unfortunately, the mechanisms in place to protect the body are sometimes not enough, the immune system can start attacking internal organs, resulting in an autoimmune disease. In this project, you can decide to focus on a specific autoimmune disease or autoimmune diseases in general. We will dive into the development of the immune system, places where things go wrong, understand outside factors that can influence the development of autoimmune diseases, and research treatment options.

Understanding vaccine responses

Children get vaccinated against all sorts of diseases during early childhood. As we get older, vaccines are more commonly administered if you travel or against the flu. However, as the world shut down in 2020 because of a highly contagious virus (COVID), even adults became acutely aware of the need for vaccination. In this project, you will learn about the immune system and how it functions. Furthermore, we will determine how vaccines work and how it protects the body from disease. Finally, we can explore diseases that still require the development of vaccines and the pros/cons of the various vaccine strategies and compounds.

Coding skills

limited R

Languages I know

Dutch, native speaker

Teaching experience

I was co-teaching a class for undergraduates in immunology I am an adjunct instructor at Elon University (human physiology lab) I have mentored 4 students for Polygence.

Credentials

Work experience

UCLA (2016 - 2017)
Postdoc
Boston Children's Hospital (2015 - 2015)
Medical student

Education

Leiden University
BS Bachelor of Science (2011)
Biomedical sciences
Utrecht University
MD Doctor of Medicine (2016)
Medicine
Duke University
PhD Doctor of Philosophy (2024)
Immunology/Cancer

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