Smita K Nair

Professor in Surgery

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)

Appointments and Affiliations

  • Professor in Surgery
  • Professor in Pathology
  • Professor in Neurosurgery
  • Member of the Duke Cancer Institute

Contact Information

  • Office Location: Room 1077, MSRB-2, 106 Research Drive, Durham, NC 27710
  • Office Phone: +1 919 681 2180
  • Websites:


  • Ph.D. University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 1993

Courses Taught

  • BIOLOGY 493: Research Independent Study
  • BIOLOGY 293: Research Independent Study

In the News

Representative Publications

  • Zhao, Fei, Christine Xiao, Kathy S. Evans, Tbalamayooran Theivanthiran, Nicholas DeVito, Alisha Holtzhausen, Juan Liu, et al. “Paracrine Wnt5a-β-Catenin Signaling Triggers a Metabolic Program that Drives Dendritic Cell Tolerization.” Immunity 48, no. 1 (January 16, 2018): 147-160.e7.
  • Brown, Michael C., Eda K. Holl, David Boczkowski, Elena Dobrikova, Mubeen Mosaheb, Vidya Chandramohan, Darell D. Bigner, Matthias Gromeier, and Smita K. Nair. “Cancer immunotherapy with recombinant poliovirus induces IFN-dominant activation of dendritic cells and tumor antigen-specific CTLs.” Sci Transl Med 9, no. 408 (September 20, 2017).
  • Batich, Kristen A., Elizabeth A. Reap, Gary E. Archer, Luis Sanchez-Perez, Smita K. Nair, Robert J. Schmittling, Pam Norberg, et al. “Long-term Survival in Glioblastoma with Cytomegalovirus pp65-Targeted Vaccination.” Clin Cancer Res 23, no. 8 (April 15, 2017): 1898–1909.
  • Sullenger, Bruce A., and Smita Nair. “From the RNA world to the clinic.” Science 352, no. 6292 (June 17, 2016): 1417–20.
  • Kreiter, Sebastian, Mustafa Diken, Steve Pascolo, Smita K. Nair, Kris M. Thielemans, and Andrew Geall. “RNA Vaccination Therapy: Advances in an Emerging Field.” J Immunol Res 2016 (2016): 9703914.
  • Pratico, Elizabeth D., Bryan J. Feger, Michael J. Watson, Bruce A. Sullenger, Dawn E. Bowles, Carmelo A. Milano, and Smita K. Nair. “RNA-Mediated Reprogramming of Primary Adult Human Dermal Fibroblasts into c-kit(+) Cardiac Progenitor Cells.” Stem Cells Dev 24, no. 22 (November 15, 2015): 2622–33.
  • Mitchell, Duane A., Kristen A. Batich, Michael D. Gunn, Min-Nung Huang, Luis Sanchez-Perez, Smita K. Nair, Kendra L. Congdon, et al. “Tetanus toxoid and CCL3 improve dendritic cell vaccines in mice and glioblastoma patients.” Nature 519, no. 7543 (March 19, 2015): 366–69.
  • Brown, Michael C., Elena Y. Dobrikova, Mikhail I. Dobrikov, Ross W. Walton, Sarah L. Gemberling, Smita K. Nair, Annick Desjardins, et al. “Oncolytic polio virotherapy of cancer.” Cancer 120, no. 21 (November 1, 2014): 3277–86.
  • Phua, Kyle K. L., Herman F. Staats, Kam W. Leong, and Smita K. Nair. “Intranasal mRNA nanoparticle vaccination induces prophylactic and therapeutic anti-tumor immunity.” Sci Rep 4 (June 4, 2014): 5128.
  • Phua, Kyle K. L., David Boczkowski, Jens Dannull, Scott Pruitt, Kam W. Leong, and Smita K. Nair. “Whole blood cells loaded with messenger RNA as an anti-tumor vaccine.” Adv Healthc Mater 3, no. 6 (June 2014): 837–42.
  • Nair, Smita K., Gabriel De Leon, David Boczkowski, Robert Schmittling, Weihua Xie, Janet Staats, Rebecca Liu, et al. “Recognition and killing of autologous, primary glioblastoma tumor cells by human cytomegalovirus pp65-specific cytotoxic T cells.” Clin Cancer Res 20, no. 10 (May 15, 2014): 2684–94.
  • Nair, Smita K., Georgia D. Tomaras, Ana Paula Sales, David Boczkowski, Cliburn Chan, Kelly Plonk, Yongting Cai, et al. “High-throughput identification and dendritic cell-based functional validation of MHC class I-restricted Mycobacterium tuberculosis epitopes.” Sci Rep 4 (April 23, 2014): 4632.
  • Lee, J., D. J. Boczkowski, and S. K. Nair. “Programming human dendritic cells with mRNA.” Methods in Molecular Biology 969 (December 1, 2013): 111–25.
  • Phua, Kyle K. L., Kam W. Leong, and Smita K. Nair. “Transfection efficiency and transgene expression kinetics of mRNA delivered in naked and nanoparticle format.” J Control Release 166, no. 3 (March 28, 2013): 227–33.
  • Pratico, Elizabeth D., Bruce A. Sullenger, and Smita K. Nair. “Identification and characterization of an agonistic aptamer against the T cell costimulatory receptor, OX40.” Nucleic Acid Ther 23, no. 1 (February 2013): 35–43.
  • Lee, Jaewoo, David Boczkowski, and Smita Nair. “Programming human dendritic cells with mRNA.” Methods Mol Biol 969 (2013): 111–25.
  • Nair, Smita, Amy J. Aldrich, Eoin McDonnell, Qing Cheng, Anshu Aggarwal, Pujan Patel, Monique M. Williams, et al. “Immunologic targeting of FOXP3 in inflammatory breast cancer cells.” PLoS One 8, no. 1 (2013): e53150.
  • Nair, Smita, Gerald E. Archer, and Thomas F. Tedder. “Isolation and generation of human dendritic cells.” Curr Protoc Immunol Chapter 7 (November 2012): 7.32.1-7.32.23.
  • Pruitt, Scott K., David Boczkowski, Nicole de Rosa, N Rebecca Haley, Michael A. Morse, Douglas S. Tyler, Jens Dannull, and Smita Nair. “Enhancement of anti-tumor immunity through local modulation of CTLA-4 and GITR by dendritic cells.” Eur J Immunol 41, no. 12 (December 2011): 3553–63.
  • Boczkowski, D., J. Lee, S. Pruitt, and S. Nair. “Dendritic cells engineered to secrete anti-GITR antibodies are effective adjuvants to dendritic cell-based immunotherapy.” Cancer Gene Ther 16, no. 12 (December 2009): 900–911.
  • Lee, Jaewoo, Claudia M. Dollins, David Boczkowski, Bruce A. Sullenger, and Smita Nair. “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 125, no. 2 (October 2008): 229–40.
  • Dollins, Claudia M., Smita Nair, David Boczkowski, Jaewoo Lee, Juliana M. Layzer, Eli Gilboa, and Bruce A. Sullenger. “Assembling OX40 aptamers on a molecular scaffold to create a receptor-activating aptamer.” Chem Biol 15, no. 7 (July 21, 2008): 675–82.
  • Nair, Smita, David Boczkowski, Martin Fassnacht, David Pisetsky, and Eli Gilboa. “Vaccination against the forkhead family transcription factor Foxp3 enhances tumor immunity.” Cancer Res 67, no. 1 (January 1, 2007): 371–80.
  • Hess, Paul R., David Boczkowski, Smita K. Nair, David Snyder, and Eli Gilboa. “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 Immunol Immunother 55, no. 6 (June 2006): 672–83.
  • Lee, Jaewoo, Martin Fassnacht, Smita Nair, David Boczkowski, and Eli Gilboa. “Tumor immunotherapy targeting fibroblast activation protein, a product expressed in tumor-associated fibroblasts.” Cancer Res 65, no. 23 (December 1, 2005): 11156–63.
  • Dannull, Jens, Smita Nair, Zhen Su, David Boczkowski, Christian DeBeck, Benjamin Yang, Eli Gilboa, and Johannes Vieweg. “Enhancing the immunostimulatory function of dendritic cells by transfection with mRNA encoding OX40 ligand.” Blood 105, no. 8 (April 15, 2005): 3206–13.
  • Nair, Smita, Catherine McLaughlin, Alon Weizer, Zhen Su, David Boczkowski, Jens Dannull, Johannes Vieweg, and Eli Gilboa. “Injection of immature dendritic cells into adjuvant-treated skin obviates the need for ex vivo maturation.” J Immunol 171, no. 11 (December 1, 2003): 6275–82.
  • Santulli-Marotto, Sandra, Smita K. Nair, Chris Rusconi, Bruce Sullenger, and Eli Gilboa. “Multivalent RNA aptamers that inhibit CTLA-4 and enhance tumor immunity.” Cancer Res 63, no. 21 (November 1, 2003): 7483–89.
  • Nair, Smita, David Boczkowski, Benjamin Moeller, Mark Dewhirst, Johannes Vieweg, and Eli Gilboa. “Synergy between tumor immunotherapy and antiangiogenic therapy.” Blood 102, no. 3 (August 1, 2003): 964–71.
  • Nair, Smita K., Michael Morse, David Boczkowski, R Ian Cumming, Ljiljana Vasovic, Eli Gilboa, and H Kim Lyerly. “Induction of tumor-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes in cancer patients by autologous tumor RNA-transfected dendritic cells.” Ann Surg 235, no. 4 (April 2002): 540–49.
  • Faiola, Brenda, Carolyn Doyle, Eli Gilboa, and Smita Nair. “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 105, no. 1 (January 2002): 47–55.
  • Morse, M. A., S. Nair, M. Fernandez-Casal, Y. Deng, M. St Peter, R. Williams, A. Hobeika, et al. “Preoperative mobilization of circulating dendritic cells by Flt3 ligand administration to patients with metastatic colon cancer.” J Clin Oncol 18, no. 23 (December 1, 2000): 3883–93.
  • Nair, S. K., A. Heiser, D. Boczkowski, A. Majumdar, M. Naoe, J. S. Lebkowski, J. Vieweg, and E. Gilboa. “Induction of cytotoxic T cell responses and tumor immunity against unrelated tumors using telomerase reverse transcriptase RNA transfected dendritic cells.” Nat Med 6, no. 9 (September 2000): 1011–17.
  • Boczkowski, D., S. K. Nair, J. H. Nam, H. K. Lyerly, and E. Gilboa. “Induction of tumor immunity and cytotoxic T lymphocyte responses using dendritic cells transfected with messenger RNA amplified from tumor cells.” Cancer Res 60, no. 4 (February 15, 2000): 1028–34.
  • Thornburg, C., D. Boczkowski, E. Gilboa, and S. K. Nair. “Induction of cytotoxic T lymphocytes with dendritic cells transfected with human papillomavirus E6 and E7 RNA: implications for cervical cancer immunotherapy.” J Immunother 23, no. 4 (2000): 412–18.
  • Morse, M. A., H. K. Lyerly, E. Gilboa, E. Thomas, and S. K. Nair. “Optimization of the sequence of antigen loading and CD40-ligand-induced maturation of dendritic cells.” Cancer Res 58, no. 14 (July 15, 1998): 2965–68.
  • Mitchell, D. A., S. K. Nair, and E. Gilboa. “Dendritic cell/macrophage precursors capture exogenous antigen for MHC class I presentation by dendritic cells.” Eur J Immunol 28, no. 6 (June 1998): 1923–33.;2-9.
  • Nair, S. K., D. Boczkowski, M. Morse, R. I. Cumming, H. K. Lyerly, and E. Gilboa. “Induction of primary carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA)-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes in vitro using human dendritic cells transfected with RNA.” Nat Biotechnol 16, no. 4 (April 1998): 364–69.
  • Wong, C., M. Morse, and S. K. Nair. “Induction of primary, human antigen-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes in vitro using dendritic cells pulsed with peptides.” J Immunother 21, no. 1 (January 1998): 32–40.
  • Boczkowski, D., S. K. Nair, D. Snyder, and E. Gilboa. “Dendritic cells pulsed with RNA are potent antigen-presenting cells in vitro and in vivo.” J Exp Med 184, no. 2 (August 1, 1996): 465–72.
  • Nair, S., A. M. Buiting, R. J. Rouse, N. Van Rooijen, L. Huang, and B. T. Rouse. “Role of macrophages and dendritic cells in primary cytotoxic T lymphocyte responses.” Int Immunol 7, no. 4 (April 1995): 679–88.
  • Nair, S., J. S. Babu, R. G. Dunham, P. Kanda, R. L. Burke, and B. T. Rouse. “Induction of primary, antiviral cytotoxic, and proliferative responses with antigens administered via dendritic cells.” J Virol 67, no. 7 (July 1993): 4062–69.
  • Nair, S., F. Zhou, R. Reddy, L. Huang, and B. T. Rouse. “Soluble proteins delivered to dendritic cells via pH-sensitive liposomes induce primary cytotoxic T lymphocyte responses in vitro.” J Exp Med 175, no. 2 (February 1, 1992): 609–12.