Smita Kesavan Nair

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
  • Email Address:
  • 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, F; Xiao, C; Evans, KS; Theivanthiran, T; DeVito, N; Holtzhausen, A; Liu, J; Liu, X; Boczkowski, D; Nair, S; Locasale, JW; Hanks, BA, Paracrine Wnt5a-β-Catenin Signaling Triggers a Metabolic Program that Drives Dendritic Cell Tolerization., Immunity, vol 48 no. 1 (2018), pp. 147-160.e7 [10.1016/j.immuni.2017.12.004] [abs].
  • Brown, MC; Holl, EK; Boczkowski, D; Dobrikova, E; Mosaheb, M; Chandramohan, V; Bigner, DD; Gromeier, M; Nair, SK, Cancer immunotherapy with recombinant poliovirus induces IFN-dominant activation of dendritic cells and tumor antigen-specific CTLs., Sci Transl Med, vol 9 no. 408 (2017) [10.1126/scitranslmed.aan4220] [abs].
  • Batich, KA; Reap, EA; Archer, GE; Sanchez-Perez, L; Nair, SK; Schmittling, RJ; Norberg, P; Xie, W; Herndon, JE; Healy, P; McLendon, RE; Friedman, AH; Friedman, HS; Bigner, D; Vlahovic, G; Mitchell, DA; Sampson, JH, Long-term Survival in Glioblastoma with Cytomegalovirus pp65-Targeted Vaccination., Clin Cancer Res, vol 23 no. 8 (2017), pp. 1898-1909 [10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-16-2057] [abs].
  • Sullenger, BA; Nair, S, From the RNA world to the clinic., Science, vol 352 no. 6292 (2016), pp. 1417-1420 [10.1126/science.aad8709] [abs].
  • Kreiter, S; Diken, M; Pascolo, S; Nair, SK; Thielemans, KM; Geall, A, RNA Vaccination Therapy: Advances in an Emerging Field., J Immunol Res, vol 2016 (2016) [10.1155/2016/9703914] [abs].
  • 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 Dev, vol 24 no. 22 (2015), pp. 2622-2633 [10.1089/scd.2015.0073] [abs].
  • Mitchell, DA; Batich, KA; Gunn, MD; Huang, M-N; 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, vol 519 no. 7543 (2015), pp. 366-369 [10.1038/nature14320] [abs].
  • 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, vol 120 no. 21 (2014), pp. 3277-3286 [10.1002/cncr.28862] [abs].
  • Phua, KKL; Staats, HF; Leong, KW; Nair, SK, Intranasal mRNA nanoparticle vaccination induces prophylactic and therapeutic anti-tumor immunity., Sci Rep, vol 4 (2014) [10.1038/srep05128] [abs].
  • Phua, KKL; Boczkowski, D; Dannull, J; Pruitt, S; Leong, KW; Nair, SK, Whole blood cells loaded with messenger RNA as an anti-tumor vaccine., Adv Healthc Mater, vol 3 no. 6 (2014), pp. 837-842 [10.1002/adhm.201300512] [abs].
  • 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., Clin Cancer Res, vol 20 no. 10 (2014), pp. 2684-2694 [10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-13-3268] [abs].
  • 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., Sci Rep, vol 4 (2014) [10.1038/srep04632] [abs].
  • Lee, J; Boczkowski, DJ; Nair, SK, Programming human dendritic cells with mRNA, Methods in Molecular Biology, vol 969 (2013), pp. 111-125 [10.1007/978-1-62703-260-5-8] [abs].
  • Phua, KKL; Leong, KW; Nair, SK, Transfection efficiency and transgene expression kinetics of mRNA delivered in naked and nanoparticle format., J Control Release, vol 166 no. 3 (2013), pp. 227-233 [10.1016/j.jconrel.2012.12.029] [abs].
  • Pratico, ED; Sullenger, BA; Nair, SK, Identification and characterization of an agonistic aptamer against the T cell costimulatory receptor, OX40., Nucleic Acid Ther, vol 23 no. 1 (2013), pp. 35-43 [10.1089/nat.2012.0388] [abs].
  • Lee, J; Boczkowski, D; Nair, S, Programming human dendritic cells with mRNA., Methods Mol Biol, vol 969 (2013), pp. 111-125 [10.1007/978-1-62703-260-5_8] [abs].
  • 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, vol 8 no. 1 (2013) [10.1371/journal.pone.0053150] [abs].
  • Nair, S; Archer, GE; Tedder, TF, Isolation and generation of human dendritic cells., Curr Protoc Immunol, vol Chapter 7 (2012), pp. 7.32.1-7.32.23 [10.1002/0471142735.im0732s99] [abs].
  • 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., Eur J Immunol, vol 41 no. 12 (2011), pp. 3553-3563 [10.1002/eji.201141383] [abs].
  • 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 Ther, vol 16 no. 12 (2009), pp. 900-911 [10.1038/cgt.2009.39] [abs].
  • 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, vol 125 no. 2 (2008), pp. 229-240 [10.1111/j.1365-2567.2008.02833.x] [abs].
  • 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., Chem Biol, vol 15 no. 7 (2008), pp. 675-682 [10.1016/j.chembiol.2008.05.016] [abs].
  • Nair, S; Boczkowski, D; Fassnacht, M; Pisetsky, D; Gilboa, E, Vaccination against the forkhead family transcription factor Foxp3 enhances tumor immunity., Cancer Res, vol 67 no. 1 (2007), pp. 371-380 [10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-06-2903] [abs].
  • 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 Immunol Immunother, vol 55 no. 6 (2006), pp. 672-683 [10.1007/s00262-005-0064-z] [abs].
  • Lee, J; Fassnacht, M; Nair, S; Boczkowski, D; Gilboa, E, Tumor immunotherapy targeting fibroblast activation protein, a product expressed in tumor-associated fibroblasts., Cancer Res, vol 65 no. 23 (2005), pp. 11156-11163 [10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-05-2805] [abs].
  • 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, vol 105 no. 8 (2005), pp. 3206-3213 [10.1182/blood-2004-10-3944] [abs].
  • 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., J Immunol, vol 171 no. 11 (2003), pp. 6275-6282 [10.4049/jimmunol.171.11.6275] [abs].
  • Santulli-Marotto, S; Nair, SK; Rusconi, C; Sullenger, B; Gilboa, E, Multivalent RNA aptamers that inhibit CTLA-4 and enhance tumor immunity., Cancer Res, vol 63 no. 21 (2003), pp. 7483-7489 [abs].
  • Nair, S; Boczkowski, D; Moeller, B; Dewhirst, M; Vieweg, J; Gilboa, E, Synergy between tumor immunotherapy and antiangiogenic therapy., Blood, vol 102 no. 3 (2003), pp. 964-971 [10.1182/blood-2002-12-3738] [abs].
  • 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., Ann Surg, vol 235 no. 4 (2002), pp. 540-549 [10.1097/00000658-200204000-00013] [abs].
  • 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, vol 105 no. 1 (2002), pp. 47-55 [10.1046/j.0019-2805.2001.01343.x] [abs].
  • 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., J Clin Oncol, vol 18 no. 23 (2000), pp. 3883-3893 [10.1200/JCO.2000.18.23.3883] [abs].
  • 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., Nat Med, vol 6 no. 9 (2000), pp. 1011-1017 [10.1038/79519] [abs].
  • 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 Res, vol 60 no. 4 (2000), pp. 1028-1034 [abs].
  • 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., J Immunother, vol 23 no. 4 (2000), pp. 412-418 [10.1097/00002371-200007000-00004] [abs].
  • 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 Res, vol 58 no. 14 (1998), pp. 2965-2968 [abs].
  • Mitchell, DA; Nair, SK; Gilboa, E, Dendritic cell/macrophage precursors capture exogenous antigen for MHC class I presentation by dendritic cells., Eur J Immunol, vol 28 no. 6 (1998), pp. 1923-1933 [10.1002/(SICI)1521-4141(199806)28:06<1923::AID-IMMU1923>3.0.CO;2-9] [abs].
  • 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., Nat Biotechnol, vol 16 no. 4 (1998), pp. 364-369 [10.1038/nbt0498-364] [abs].
  • Wong, C; Morse, M; Nair, SK, Induction of primary, human antigen-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes in vitro using dendritic cells pulsed with peptides., J Immunother, vol 21 no. 1 (1998), pp. 32-40 [10.1097/00002371-199801000-00004] [abs].
  • Boczkowski, D; Nair, SK; Snyder, D; Gilboa, E, Dendritic cells pulsed with RNA are potent antigen-presenting cells in vitro and in vivo., J Exp Med, vol 184 no. 2 (1996), pp. 465-472 [10.1084/jem.184.2.465] [abs].
  • 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., Int Immunol, vol 7 no. 4 (1995), pp. 679-688 [10.1093/intimm/7.4.679] [abs].
  • 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., J Virol, vol 67 no. 7 (1993), pp. 4062-4069 [10.1128/JVI.67.7.4062-4069.1993] [abs].
  • 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., J Exp Med, vol 175 no. 2 (1992), pp. 609-612 [10.1084/jem.175.2.609] [abs].