Department of Cancer Immunology and Virology

Cancer immunology is one of today's most exciting and important areas of investigation in the cancer field.

The department performs basic research in cancer immunology and virology and develops new therapeutic strategies based on novel mechanistic insights. Cancer immunology is now one of the most exciting and important areas of investigation in the cancer field.

A Long History of Excellence

The magnitude and durability of responses to immunotherapies in patients with diverse types of cancer are unprecedented in oncology. Dana-Farber has a long history of excellence in this field, and our immunology investigators have made important contributions to these advances that are now benefiting patients. We think that this is just the beginning of one of the most exciting chapters in the fight against cancer.

Learn more about our mission and departmental emphasis

Immunology's Role in the Fight Against Cancer

Kai W. Wucherpfennig, MD, PhD, Co-chair of the Department of Cancer Immunology and Virology at Dana-Farber, describes how immunology research contributes to the fight against cancer and the development of new and promising cancer treatments for patients.

Why Do Basic Research in a Cancer Institute?

Carl Novina, MD, PhD, from Dana-Farber's Department of Cancer Immunology and Virology, describes the role of basic research in providing the building blocks upon which future cancer treatments are built.

Our Research Focus

Basic Immunological Mechanisms

All therapeutic advances in cancer immunology are based on our growing understanding of fundamental immunological mechanisms. We approach immunology as a complex system in which many cell populations activate and regulate each other.  

Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy

We are developing novel approaches for immunotherapy, and we closely collaborate with our clinical colleagues to advance important discoveries to clinical trials. The Wucherpfennig Lab has developed a novel approach for systematic discovery of negative regulators of T cell function. 

Viral Immunology

HIV infects a critical population of immune cells (CD4 T cells), resulting in an immunodeficiency syndrome that predisposes to opportunistic infections and cancer. A shared interest by HIV and cancer immunology investigators is the development of vaccines.

Cancer Immunology Working Group

At monthly faculty meetings, basic and clinical immunologists discuss ongoing research in their labs to foster translation of immunological principles into clinical immunotherapy trials. Immunologists in other departments are part of our vibrant immunology community and contribute expertise.

Highlights from Our Research


Novel Immunotherapy Strategy for Tumors Resistant to Cytotoxic T Cells

First/last authors: Lucas Ferrari de Andrade/Kai Wucherpfennig

Many human cancers escape from T cell mediated immunotherapy with checkpoint blockade. We show that such resistant tumors can be treated with antibodies that target stress proteins, thus making them susceptible to NK cell-mediated immune attack.   


HIV-1 Entry Inhibitors Lock Up the Flexible Viral Envelope Protein

First/last authors: Shitao Zou/Joseph Sodroski

Certain inhibitors of HIV-1 entry into cells lock the flexible envelope protein on the virus surface into its natural shape, allowing it to be studied in greater detail. Such information may help to design an effective HIV-1 vaccine.


Identifying How RNAs Work by Characterizing Its Interacting Proteins

First/last authors: Karyn Schmidt/Carl Novina

The Novina lab demonstrated that a long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) mediates melanoma invasion by binding to the androgen receptor (AR). Oligos that sterically block the AR binding site on the lncRNA prevented melanoma invasion, suggesting a new therapeutic strategy.

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Learn about our opportunities for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, clinical fellows, and junior faculty.