Smita Kesavan Nair, PhD

Associate Professor of Surgery
Associate Professor in Pathology
Department / Division:
Surgery / Surgical Sciences
Room 1077, Msrb-2
106 Research Drive
Durham, NC 27710
Office Telephone:
(919) 681-2180
  • PhD, UniversityTennessee Knoxville*, 1993
Research Interests:

I have 22 years of experience in the field of cancer vaccines and immunotherapy and I am an accomplished T cell immunologist. Laboratory website:

Current projects in the Nair Laboratory:
1] Dendritic cell vaccines using tumor-antigen encoding RNA (mRNA, total tumor RNA, amplified tumor mRNA)
2] Local immune receptor modulation using mRNA that encodes for antibodies, receptor-ligands, cytokines, chemokines and toll-like receptors (current target list: CTLA4, GITR, PD1, TIM3, LAG3, OX40 and 41BB)
3] Combination therapies for cancer: cytotoxic therapy (radiation, chemo and oncolytic poliovirus therapy) with dendritic cell-based vaccines and immune checkpoint blockade
4] Adoptive T cell therapy using tumor RNA-transfected dendritic cells to expand tumor-specific T cells ex vivo
5] Adoptive T cell therapy using PSMA CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) RNA-transfected T cells
6] Direct injection of tumor antigen encoding RNA (targeting antigens to dendric cells in vivo using nanoparticles and aptamers)

Representative Publications:
  • Mitchell, DA; Batich, KA; Gunn, MD; Huang, MN; Sanchez-Perez, L; Nair, SK; Congdon, KL; Reap, EA; Archer, GE; Desjardins, A; Friedman, AH; Friedman, HS; Herndon, JE; Coan, A; McLendon, RE; Reardon, DA; Vredenburgh, JJ; Bigner, DD; Sampson, JH. Tetanus toxoid and CCL3 improve dendritic cell vaccines in mice and glioblastoma patients. Nature. 2015;519:366-369.  Abstract
  • Pratico, ED; Feger, BJ; Watson, MJ; Sullenger, BA; Bowles, DE; Milano, CA; Nair, SK. RNA-Mediated Reprogramming of Primary Adult Human Dermal Fibroblasts into c-kit(+) Cardiac Progenitor Cells. Stem Cells and Development. 2015;24:2622-2633.  Abstract
  • Brown, MC; Dobrikova, EY; Dobrikov, MI; Walton, RW; Gemberling, SL; Nair, SK; Desjardins, A; Sampson, JH; Friedman, HS; Friedman, AH; Tyler, DS; Bigner, DD; Gromeier, M. Oncolytic polio virotherapy of cancer. Cancer. 2014;120:3277-3286.  Abstract
  • Nair, SK; De Leon, G; Boczkowski, D; Schmittling, R; Xie, W; Staats, J; Liu, R; Johnson, LA; Weinhold, K; Archer, GE; Sampson, JH; Mitchell, DA. Recognition and killing of autologous, primary glioblastoma tumor cells by human cytomegalovirus pp65-specific cytotoxic T cells. Clinical cancer research : an official journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. 2014;20:2684-2694.  Abstract
  • Nair, SK; Tomaras, GD; Sales, AP; Boczkowski, D; Chan, C; Plonk, K; Cai, Y; Dannull, J; Kepler, TB; Pruitt, SK; Weinhold, KJ. High-throughput identification and dendritic cell-based functional validation of MHC class I-restricted Mycobacterium tuberculosis epitopes. Scientific Reports. 2014;4:4632.  Abstract
  • Phua, KK; Boczkowski, D; Dannull, J; Pruitt, S; Leong, KW; Nair, SK. Whole blood cells loaded with messenger RNA as an anti-tumor vaccine. Advanced healthcare materials. 2014;3:837-842.  Abstract
  • Phua, KK; Staats, HF; Leong, KW; Nair, SK. Intranasal mRNA nanoparticle vaccination induces prophylactic and therapeutic anti-tumor immunity. Scientific Reports. 2014;4:5128.  Abstract
  • Lee, J; Boczkowski, D; Nair, S. Programming human dendritic cells with mRNA. Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.). 2013;969:111-125.  Abstract
  • Nair, S; Aldrich, AJ; McDonnell, E; Cheng, Q; Aggarwal, A; Patel, P; Williams, MM; Boczkowski, D; Lyerly, HK; Morse, MA; Devi, GR. Immunologic targeting of FOXP3 in inflammatory breast cancer cells. PloS one. 2013;8:e53150.  Abstract
  • Phua, KK; Leong, KW; Nair, SK. Transfection efficiency and transgene expression kinetics of mRNA delivered in naked and nanoparticle format. Journal of Controlled Release. 2013;166:227-233.  Abstract
  • Pratico, ED; Sullenger, BA; Nair, SK. Identification and characterization of an agonistic aptamer against the T cell costimulatory receptor, OX40. Nucleic Acid Therapeutics. 2013;23:35-43.  Abstract
  • Nair, S; Archer, GE; Tedder, TF. Isolation and generation of human dendritic cells. Current Protocols in Immunology. 2012;Chapter 7:Unit7.32.  Abstract
  • Pruitt, SK; Boczkowski, D; de Rosa, N; Haley, NR; Morse, MA; Tyler, DS; Dannull, J; Nair, S. Enhancement of anti-tumor immunity through local modulation of CTLA-4 and GITR by dendritic cells. European Journal of Immunology. 2011;41:3553-3563.  Abstract
  • Boczkowski, D; Lee, J; Pruitt, S; Nair, S. Dendritic cells engineered to secrete anti-GITR antibodies are effective adjuvants to dendritic cell-based immunotherapy. Cancer Gene Therapy. 2009;16:900-911.  Abstract
  • Dollins, CM; Nair, S; Boczkowski, D; Lee, J; Layzer, JM; Gilboa, E; Sullenger, BA. Assembling OX40 aptamers on a molecular scaffold to create a receptor-activating aptamer. Chemistry & Biology. 2008;15:675-682.  Abstract
  • Lee, J; Dollins, CM; Boczkowski, D; Sullenger, BA; Nair, S. Activated B cells modified by electroporation of multiple mRNAs encoding immune stimulatory molecules are comparable to mature dendritic cells in inducing in vitro antigen-specific T-cell responses. Immunology. 2008;125:229-240.  Abstract
  • Nair, S; Boczkowski, D; Fassnacht, M; Pisetsky, D; Gilboa, E. Vaccination against the forkhead family transcription factor Foxp3 enhances tumor immunity. Cancer Research. 2007;67:371-380.  Abstract
  • Hess, PR; Boczkowski, D; Nair, SK; Snyder, D; Gilboa, E. Vaccination with mRNAs encoding tumor-associated antigens and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor efficiently primes CTL responses, but is insufficient to overcome tolerance to a model tumor/self antigen. Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy. 2006;55:672-683.  Abstract
  • Dannull, J; Nair, S; Su, Z; Boczkowski, D; DeBeck, C; Yang, B; Gilboa, E; Vieweg, J. Enhancing the immunostimulatory function of dendritic cells by transfection with mRNA encoding OX40 ligand. Blood. 2005;105:3206-3213.  Abstract
  • Lee, J; Fassnacht, M; Nair, S; Boczkowski, D; Gilboa, E. Tumor immunotherapy targeting fibroblast activation protein, a product expressed in tumor-associated fibroblasts. Cancer Research. 2005;65:11156-11163.  Abstract
  • Nair, S; Boczkowski, D; Moeller, B; Dewhirst, M; Vieweg, J; Gilboa, E. Synergy between tumor immunotherapy and antiangiogenic therapy. Blood. 2003;102:964-971.  Abstract
  • Nair, S; McLaughlin, C; Weizer, A; Su, Z; Boczkowski, D; Dannull, J; Vieweg, J; Gilboa, E. Injection of immature dendritic cells into adjuvant-treated skin obviates the need for ex vivo maturation. Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950). 2003;171:6275-6282.  Abstract
  • Santulli-Marotto, S; Nair, SK; Rusconi, C; Sullenger, B; Gilboa, E. Multivalent RNA aptamers that inhibit CTLA-4 and enhance tumor immunity. Cancer Research. 2003;63:7483-7489.  Abstract
  • Faiola, B; Doyle, C; Gilboa, E; Nair, S. Influence of CD4 T cells and the source of major histocompatibility complex class II-restricted peptides on cytotoxic T-cell priming by dendritic cells. Immunology. 2002;105:47-55.  Abstract
  • Nair, SK; Morse, M; Boczkowski, D; Cumming, RI; Vasovic, L; Gilboa, E; Lyerly, HK. Induction of tumor-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes in cancer patients by autologous tumor RNA-transfected dendritic cells. Annals of Surgery. 2002;235:540-549.  Abstract
  • Boczkowski, D; Nair, SK; Nam, JH; Lyerly, HK; Gilboa, E. Induction of tumor immunity and cytotoxic T lymphocyte responses using dendritic cells transfected with messenger RNA amplified from tumor cells. Cancer Research. 2000;60:1028-1034.  Abstract
  • Morse, MA; Nair, S; Fernandez-Casal, M; Deng, Y; St Peter, M; Williams, R; Hobeika, A; Mosca, P; Clay, T; Cumming, RI; Fisher, E; Clavien, P; Proia, AD; Niedzwiecki, D; Caron, D; Lyerly, HK. Preoperative mobilization of circulating dendritic cells by Flt3 ligand administration to patients with metastatic colon cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2000;18:3883-3893.  Abstract
  • Nair, SK; Heiser, A; Boczkowski, D; Majumdar, A; Naoe, M; Lebkowski, JS; Vieweg, J; Gilboa, E. Induction of cytotoxic T cell responses and tumor immunity against unrelated tumors using telomerase reverse transcriptase RNA transfected dendritic cells. Nature Medicine. 2000;6:1011-1017.  Abstract
  • Thornburg, C; Boczkowski, D; Gilboa, E; Nair, SK. Induction of cytotoxic T lymphocytes with dendritic cells transfected with human papillomavirus E6 and E7 RNA: implications for cervical cancer immunotherapy. Journal of Immunotherapy. 2000;23:412-418.  Abstract
  • Mitchell, DA; Nair, SK; Gilboa, E. Dendritic cell/macrophage precursors capture exogenous antigen for MHC class I presentation by dendritic cells. European Journal of Immunology. 1998;28:1923-1933.  Abstract
  • Morse, MA; Lyerly, HK; Gilboa, E; Thomas, E; Nair, SK. Optimization of the sequence of antigen loading and CD40-ligand-induced maturation of dendritic cells. Cancer Research. 1998;58:2965-2968.  Abstract
  • Nair, SK; Boczkowski, D; Morse, M; Cumming, RI; Lyerly, HK; Gilboa, E. Induction of primary carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA)-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes in vitro using human dendritic cells transfected with RNA. Nature Biotechnology. 1998;16:364-369.  Abstract
  • Wong, C; Morse, M; Nair, SK. Induction of primary, human antigen-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes in vitro using dendritic cells pulsed with peptides. Journal of Immunotherapy. 1998;21:32-40.  Abstract
  • Boczkowski, D; Nair, SK; Snyder, D; Gilboa, E. Dendritic cells pulsed with RNA are potent antigen-presenting cells in vitro and in vivo. The Journal of Experimental Medicine. 1996;184:465-472.  Abstract
  • Nair, S; Buiting, AM; Rouse, RJ; Van Rooijen, N; Huang, L; Rouse, BT. Role of macrophages and dendritic cells in primary cytotoxic T lymphocyte responses. International Immunology. 1995;7:679-688.  Abstract
  • Nair, S; Babu, JS; Dunham, RG; Kanda, P; Burke, RL; Rouse, BT. Induction of primary, antiviral cytotoxic, and proliferative responses with antigens administered via dendritic cells. Journal of virology. 1993;67:4062-4069.  Abstract
  • Nair, S; Zhou, F; Reddy, R; Huang, L; Rouse, BT. Soluble proteins delivered to dendritic cells via pH-sensitive liposomes induce primary cytotoxic T lymphocyte responses in vitro. The Journal of Experimental Medicine. 1992;175:609-612.  Abstract