Immunotherapy & Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant Research Group (Capitini)

ccapitini [at]


(608) 262-2415

Mailing Address

1111 Highland Avenue
Madison, WI 53705
United States

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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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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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) Graduate Program. For more information, please visit his profile at the CMP website.

Research Opportunities - Postdoctoral Fellows

As of July 1, 2017, 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

  • May 2016

    Congratulations to Christian Capitini, MD, who was recently awarded a $5,000 Summer Fellowship from the St. Baldricks's Foundation, the largest private funder of childhood cancer research grants, to fund a student in his lab this summer. Nicole Piscopo, a 2nd year graduate student in the laboratory of Kris Saha, PhD in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at UW, will collaborate with Dr. Capitini's lab on the project, "Tagging CAR T cells for GD2+ cancers," with the goal of using her expertise in using CRISPR-Cas9 to tag chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) used for pediatric cancer. This approach will produce key cell lines that can be used to treat GD2 positive tumors, and could be extended to create other engineered cells of the immune system as a broad off-the-shelf cellular toolkit for pediatric cancers.

  • March 2016

    Myriam N. Bouchlaka, PhD, and Christian Capitini, MD, are authors on a new study that provides a key step in monitoring if, and how, the body's own cancer-killing components are working during immunotherapy.

    So-called natural killer (NK) cell cancer therapy is the subject of several recent and current clinical trials, with some, but not all, patients' tumors shrinking in response to the treatment.

    In the study, published in the journal OncoImmunology, the research team combined NK cell immunotherapy with the labeling agent fluorine-19 in an attempt to monitor the cancer-killing cells in an animal model that could be safely translated to humans.

    They showed that the labeling had no detrimental effects on the ability of those cells to kill cancer cells in the lab. They then injected labeled cells directly into mice harboring human cancers and, using a specialized MRI to detect fluorine-19, were able to detect the labeled cells for several days in those tumors.

  • January 2016

    Congratulations to Christian Capitini, MD, who was recently awarded a one-year grant from the UW Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education for his project entitled, "Enhancing the graft-versus-tumor effect against neuroblastoma." This award, in the amount of $66,523, will allow his lab to study the use of allogenic bone marrow transplant models to optimize graft-versus-tumor effects against neuroblastoma without exacerbating graft-versus-host disease. Results of this proposal could provide a novel, targeted approach for treating neuroblastoma.

  • May 2015

    Congratulations to Christian Capitini, MD, and Medical Student Tara Gavcovich from George Washington University School of Medicine, for their recent grant of $5,000 to support summer research in Dr. Capitini's Lab.

    This HONORS (Hematology Opportunities for the Next Generation of Research Scientists) award from the American Society of Hematology (ASH), is intended for medical students and residents with an interest in hematology research.

    The project, entitled "Improving GVL/GVHD for T-Cell ALL," will allow Gavcovich to study whether BCL2, an anti-apoptotic protein that is expressed in T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), combined with STAT1 inhibition, results in a synergistic improvement of the graft-versus-leukemia (GVL) effect.

  • May 2015

    Christian Capitini, MD, was awarded a certificate and $1000 in flexible research funds for his laboratory at the First Annual Immuno-oncology Young Investigator's Forum in Chicago, IL in May. Dr. Capitini presented one of the top abstracts at the Forum, and his presentation was entitled, "Incorporating immunocytokine to enhance graft-versus-tumor effects against neuroblastoma."