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Jessica Thaxton, Ph.D, MsCR

Principal Investigator

Dr. Thaxton is an Associate Professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Thaxton received her BA from Amherst College and her PhD from Brown University in Pathobiology & Immunology. Dr. Thaxton trained as a postdoctoral fellow in the field of ER stress and Immunity in the laboratory of Zihai Li, MD, PhD. During her postdoctoral work Dr. Thaxton held a Department of Defense Breast Cancer Postdoctoral Research Fellowship and obtained a Master's in Clinical Research in the study of clinical trials. As an Assistant Professor Dr. Thaxton’s work on tumor-induced ER dysfunction in tumor infiltrating T cells was supported by the NCI Paul Calabresi Clinical Oncology K12 Fellowship. The Thaxton lab has delineated negative roles for the PERK axis in T cell-mediated tumor immunity and continues to study how the solid tumor microenvironment undermines immune-mediated tumor control through dysregulation of ER stress signaling, ER structure, and proteostasis. 

Research Team

Katie Hurst, MPH

Lab Manager

Katie graduated from Clemson University in 2012 with a BA in Biological Sciences with a minor in Psychology.  Katie’s interest in cancer biology led her to the Medical University of South Carolina after graduation to pursue a career in molecular cancer research, whereafter she transitioned into cancer immunology research.  She holds a special interest in the patient psychological response to cancer and how the immune system can regulate this response and vice versa.  Katie serves as lab manager for the Thaxton Lab during which she pursued her Masters in Public Health with a concentration in Health Behavior at the Medical University of South Carolina, where she graduated in 2020.


Ellie Hunt
Graduate Student

Ellie graduated from Anderson University in 2019 with a BS in biochemistry. Through her coursework and experience in hospital internships, she gained an interest in immunology and, after a year as a lab technician studying bioenergetics of hepatocellular carcinoma, she enrolled in MUSC’s College of Graduate Studies with an interest in immunotherapy and T cell metabolism. She joined the Thaxton Lab whose interests align with her passion for discovering more efficacious, affordable immunotherapies through modulation of T cell stress responses and metabolism. She is now enrolled in UNC-Chapel Hill’s Biological and Biomedical Sciences PhD program where she continues to study the effects of endoplasmic reticulum stress on T cell metabolism and antitumor efficacy. 


Brian Riesenberg, Ph.D

Postdoctoral scholar

Dr. Riesenberg is a postdoctoral scholar and PIRE Fellow in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina. He received his B.S. in Biology from Barton College as a 4-year member the men's varsity soccer program before obtaining his Ph.D. from the Medical University of South Carolina in 2019. Prior to joining the Thaxton Lab, Brian's research took him to the Pelotonia Institute for Immuno-Oncology at The Ohio State University where he focused on T cell exhaustion, development of high-dimensional spectral flow cytometry technology, preclinical in vivo modeling, and technology commercialization. His current work is focused on translating the discoveries made by the research group into novel therapeutics to improve patient outcomes.  


Evelyn Gandy

Research Technician

Evelyn graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in 2022 where she majored in psychology and minored in biology and chemistry. Her research interests include cancer immunotherapy, cell metabolism, and cancer signaling pathways. After volunteering in the Thaxton lab during her time as an undergraduate, Evelyn joined the Thaxton Lab as a Research Technician. Evelyn plans on attending medical school with the future goal of becoming an oncologist and developing new cancer therapies in a clinical setting.


Coral Del Mar Alicea Pauneto

Graduate Student

Coral graduated from the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao in 2015 with a BS in Industrial Chemistry. During her undergraduate year, she did multiple research internships in neuroscience and pharmacology leading her to pursue graduate studies. After graduating, she was accepted into the Pharmacology department at UNC with an interest in neuro-oncology and cancer immunotherapy. At the beginning of her graduate student career, she focused on studying myeloid-directed immunotherapy to treat medulloblastoma. After this experience, she pursued her interest in understanding immunotherapy from a cell biology perspective, where she then joined the Thaxton lab. Coral studies the chronic role of ATF4, a transcription factor important in endoplasmic reticulum stress in tumor-infiltrating T cells, with the ultimate goal of discovering an immunotherapy target.


Andrew Kennedy

Graduate Student

Andrew graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a BS in Biology in 2016, where he studied the effects of electronic cigarettes on lung disease. After graduation he led projects as a research technician studying the interplay between endoplasmic reticulum quality control and autophagy within protein-misfolding diseases. After becoming a PhD candidate in UNC's Cell Biology and Physiology department, Andrew joined the Thaxton lab to apply his interest in endoplasmic reticulum biology for the improvement of cancer immunotherapies.


Genevieve Clutton, DPhil

Research Associate

Dr. Clutton received her BS from the University of Bath (UK) and her DPhil (PhD) in Immunology from the University of Oxford (UK). She trained as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Nilu Goonetilleke, PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, investigating CD8 T cell responses to HIV-1 and other viruses. She obtained independent funding to study T cell responses in the context of Kaposi’s sarcoma and obesity, which fueled her interest in the effects of metabolism on the efficacy of T cell therapies

Clinical Collaborators


Robert Esther, MD, MS

Clinical Collaborator

Dr. Esther is the sole Orthopedic Oncologist at UNC Chapel Hill and one of the state’s leading orthopedic tumor surgeons. Dr. Esther received his MD from Vanderbilt University and completed his Orthopaedic Surgery residency at UNC Chapel Hill. He then continued his training as a Musculoskeletal Oncology Fellow at the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Esther has since returned to UNC Chapel Hill as a Professor of Orthopaedics where he serves as a clinical collaborator to Dr. Thaxton’s sarcoma immunotherapy group, enabling the formation of a translationally focused research group dedicated to development of novel immunotherapies for sarcoma and metastatic bone disease patients.  Dr. Esther is enthusiastic to contribute to the basic science direction of Dr. Thaxton's research program to generate new clinical trials for sarcoma patients at Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

David Neskey, MD, MsCR

Clinical Collaborator

Dr. Neskey is one of South Carolina's leading head and neck tumor surgeons and serves as the Program Director of Head & Neck Oncology at Trident Health System in Charleston, SC. Dr. Neskey received his MD from Albany Medical College and completed his residency at the University of Miami. He then continued his training as a Head and Neck Oncology Fellow at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Prior to joining Trident Health System, Dr. Neskey was the Program Director for Head & Neck Surgical Oncology fellowship program at the Medical University of South Carolina. Additionally, he was co-program leader for Cancer Immunology at Hollings Cancer Center and was the principal investigator on NIH funded head and neck cancer research and investigator initiated therapeutic clinical trials for patients with head and neck cancer.


Stergios Moschos, MD

Clinical Collaborator

Dr. Moschos is an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at UNC Chapel Hill. Dr. Moschos completed medical school at the National & Kapodistrian University of Athens in Athens, Greece and completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Tufts University while serving as a research fellow in the Division of Endocrinology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center where he studied the impact of acute leptin deficiency (by acute starvation) on adaptive immune response. He completed his clinical fellowship training in hematology/oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Dr. Moschos has a research focus on identifying molecules that are important for melanoma development and progression, identifying mechanisms of action of FDA-approved and investigational agents in melanoma

Lab Alumni


Alex Andrews, PhD


Kiley Lawrence


Medical Student

Megan Tennant, MS

PhD Student


Molly Sekar, MD

Medical Student


Sydney Larsen
Undergraduate Student

K9 Unit

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Julie                                  Millie                              Cal & Morrie                               Kona                                 Norm

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