Jessica Thaxton, Ph.D, MsCR
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.
Katie Hurst, MPH
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 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
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 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
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 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.
Maggie Hynek is an undergraduate student at UNC Chapel Hill pursuing a degree in Chemistry with a minor in Medical Anthropology. Her research interests include cancer immunotherapy and T cell metabolism. Additionally, she is passionate about accessible healthcare for women in underserved communities. Maggie plans to attend graduate school and pursue a career in research after completing her undergraduate studies.
Robert Esther, MD, MS
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
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.
Alex Andrews, PhD
Megan Tennant, MS
Molly Sekar, MD
Julie Millie Cal & Morrie