Immunotherapy & Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant Research Group (Capitini)

Our group focuses on using preclinical models of allogeneic blood and marrow transplant (alloBMT) to cure pediatric cancers. The goal of this research is two-fold: (1) to improve graft-versus-tumor (GVT) effects using adoptive cellular therapies, like T cell and natural killer (NK) cell infusions, and antibody-based approaches that have potential to be translated into the clinic; (2) to reduce or eliminate graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD) through modulation of antigen presenting cells.

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One component of the Immunotherapy & Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant Research Group is exploring methods to improve the GVT effect. T cells can recognize tumors as foreign, treating any evidence of relapsed disease. Dr. Capitini is a site investigator for clinical trials studying a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-modified T cell for relapsed leukemia.

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There are other populations of lymphocytes that also contribute to the GVT effect, such as NK cells. Ongoing work is combining NK cells expanded with costimulatory molecules and gamma (c) cytokines with antibodies to stimulate NK cell proliferation and activation against several pediatric tumors in the alloBMT setting. We are also developing imaging techniques to monitor NK cell trafficking in vivo.

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Engineering and Observing a Graft-vs-Tumor Effect Against Neuroblastoma


All of the potential benefits of using alloBMT to treat cancer comes with the potential of inducing GVHD, which is caused by donor T cells attacking normal host tissues such as the liver, skin or gut. Dr. Capitini has previously demonstrated that even subclinical GVHD can have deleterious effects on the efficacy of tumor vaccines as well as promote tumor growth. He also showed a novel approach of modulating GVHD through usage of T cell depleted bone marrow deficient in gamma interferon receptor signaling. By using this platform, he has identified a molecule called STAT1, which is downstream of the gamma interferon receptor, plays a critical role in regulating plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) and GVHD. Ongoing work is exploring the impact of pDCs and other antigen presenting cells on GVHD.

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UW Pediatrics Grand Rounds - Christian M. Capitini, MD

Additional Research Activities

  • Basic, translational and clinical research of pediatric cancers
  • Adoptive cell therapies (NK cell and CAR T cell infusions)
  • Models of bone marrow transplant
  • Graft-versus-host-disease
  • Cancer vaccines
  • Antigen presenting cells

Research Opportunities - Graduate Students

For students interested in obtaining a PhD, Dr. Capitini is a trainer for the Cellular and Molecular Pathology (CMP), Cellular and Molecular Biology (CMB), Clinical Investigation (ICTR), and Comparative Biomedical Sciences (CBMS) Graduate Programs. For more information, please visit his profile at the CMP website, CMB website, ICTR website, or CBMS website.

Research Opportunities - Postdoctoral Fellows

As of April 1, 2019, there is 1 open postdoctoral position in Dr. Capitini’s laboratory. Interested applicants with experience in cellular immunology, tumor models and/or molecular genetics may send a cover letter, CV, and emails for 3 references to ccapitini [at] for consideration.

Research Group News

  • January 2019

    In 2018, five Department of Pediatrics faculty members were accepted as members of the Society for Pediatric Research (SPR).

    SPR's mission is to create a network of multidisciplinary researchers to improve child health. Specifically, it works to facilitate active communications among and between researchers; promote research collaborations through mentoring and knowledge sharing; and advocate for funding and policies supportive of research.

    Below are the new members:

  • January 2019
    David McCulley, MDChristian Capitini, MD

    Two Department of Pediatrics faculty— Christian Capitini, MD (Assistant Professor, Division of Hematology, Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant) and David McCulley, MD (Assistant Professor, Division of Neonatology and Newborn Nursery)—have been named winners of the University of Wisconsin Department of Pediatrics Gerard B. Odell Research Award.

    Dr. Capitini is the 2018 award winner; Dr. McCulley is the 2019 award winner.

  • August 2018
    Christian Capitini, MD

    Congratulations to Christian Capitini, MD, and Co-Investigator Sean Fain, PhD, who were recently awarded a 5-year grant from the National Institutes of Health-National Cancer Institute (NIH-NCI) for their project entitled, "Combining hu14.18-IL2 and NK cell infusions to treat neuroblastoma." This R01 award for over $1.75 million in total costs, will use murine allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant (alloHSCT) models to develop evidence for a clinically applicable combined strategy that utilizes the immunocytokine hu14.18-IL2 to enhance the graft-versus-tumor effect of immunologically activated, ex-vivo activated natural killer (NK) cells, and to track the localization of these NK cells using a novel 19F-MRI platform.

  • May 2018
    Christian Capitini, MD

    Christian Capitini, MD, along with Co-Investigators Paul Sondel, MD, PhD, and Sean Fain, PhD (Medical Physics), were recently awarded a four-year, Research Scholar Grant from the American Cancer Society (ACS), for the project entitled, "Ex vivo activated NK cells and immunocytokine for pediatric cancers." This grant, for $792,000 (total costs), will provide preclinical evidence for a potential platform for incorporating recently developed immunotherapies, namely immunocytokine and natural killer (NK) cells, for treatment of neuroblastoma and osteosarcoma.

  • April 2018
    Christian Capitini, MD

    Congratulations to Katharine Tippins, medical student, and her mentor, Christian Capitini, MD, for receiving a Summer Student Fellowship from St. Baldrick's Foundation in the amount of $5,000. This 4-month Summer Fellowship is for her project entitled, "Generating an NK-mediated graft-versus-tumor effect against osteosarcoma," which she will use murine bone marrow transplant (BMT) models to develop evidence for a clinically applicable combined strategy that utilizes immunocytokines (IC) to enhance anti-tumor properties of immunologically activated, ex vivo activated natural killer (NK) cells. The underlying goal of this study is to develop a bone marrow transplant that can cure osteosarcoma.