Lab Members

Principal Investigator

Tracy McGaha, PhD

Senior Scientist

Dr. McGaha obtained his Ph.D. in Immunology at the Ichan School of Medicine at New York University and pursued post-doctoral training at the Rockefeller University. Dr. McGaha started his own lab as an Assistant Professor at Temple University before moving to Georgia Regents University in 2008. Dr. McGaha joined the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre as a Senior Scientist in 2015. He is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Immunology at the University of Toronto.

Dr. McGaha’s research interests involve mechanisms of immune tolerance induced by cell death and communication between innate and adaptive cells in regulatory immunity. His laboratory was one of the first to demonstrate that specialized stromal macrophages (i.e. tissue-resident) control early immunity to apoptotic cells regulating both dendritic cell and T cell responses to apoptotic antigens, and disrupting the function of these macrophage subsets renders mice susceptible to apoptotic cell-driven autoimmune disease. Ongoing studies are characterizing the cell specific contribution to the apoptotic cell regulatory immune responses, cellular stress, and immuno-metabolism in the context of autoimmunity and cancer.

Hominidae McGaha

Paranthropus boisei

Like other lab members of the Paranthropus genus, P. boisei is characterized by a specialized skull with adaptations for heavy chewing. A strong sagittal crest on the midline of the top of the skull anchored the temporalis muscles (large chewing muscles) from the top and side of the braincase to the lower jaw, and thus moved the massive jaw up and down. The force was focused on the large cheek teeth (molars and premolars). Flaring cheekbones gave P. boisei a very wide and dish-shaped face, creating a larger opening for bigger jaw muscles to pass through and support massive cheek teeth four times the size of a modern human’s. This species had even larger cheek teeth than P. robustus, a flatter, bigger-brained skull than P. aethiopicus, and the thickest dental enamel of any known early human. Cranial capacity in this species suggests a slight rise in brain size (about 100 cc in 1 million years) independent of brain enlargement in the genus Homo.

Lab Manager

 

Marie-jo Halaby, PhD

Lab Manager

Dr. Halaby received her Bachelor of Science from the American University of Beirut in Beirut, Lebanon. She then completed her PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of South Dakota. During that time, she worked on elucidating pathways involved in the regulation of translation of the tumor suppressor p53. In addition, she studied the role of ATM in insulin signaling and glucose uptake in muscle and adipose tissue. She then moved on to do her postdoctoral fellowship at the Ontario Cancer Institute (Princess Margaret Hospital) in Toronto where she investigated the functions of the ubiquitin ligases Rnf8 and Rnf168 in DNA damage signaling and cancer. She joined Dr. Tracy McGaha’s laboratory as a laboratory manager in 2015.  

Dr. Halaby’s overall research interest is in the role of myeloid cells such as macrophages and myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) in the tumor immune microenvironment. More specifically, she is studying how GCN2, a protein kinase involved in the response to amino acid starvation, can alter suppressive functionality of myeloid cells in the context of melanoma and ovarian cancer by controlling transcriptional, epigenetic and metabolic changes in these cells. Her other focus is pancreatic cancer. She is studying tumor-associated macrophage signatures and immune microenvironment in human pancreatic tumors in the hope of finding potential drug targets for this deadly disease.

Postdoctoral Scientists

Kebria Hezaveh, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Hezaveh earned her PhD in 2016 from Charité-Universitätsmedizin, the largest university-based research hospital in Europe, examining the role of microRNAs in germinal centers and B cell lymphoma. In addition, at University hospital of Dusseldorf, Department of Pediatric Oncology, Hematology and Clinical Immunology, she held an executive position as a member of the ICGC (International Cancer Genome Consortium)-MMML-Seq.

Dr. Hezaveh’s postdocal project is examining the role of arginase1 in modulation of myeloid phenotype in the tumor microenvironment. The goal of the project is to test mechanistic links between Arginase 1, stress signaling, and mTOR in acquisition of a suppressive phenotype primarily via the use of lineage-specific deletion of the Arg1 gene in macrophages and myeloid derived suppressor cells. Although the project was based in traditional approaches (e.g. genetic deletion, biochemical analysis, in vivo modeling, etc.), she will also apply more cutting edge systems biology methodologies to address the question.

In addition, Dr. Hezaveh’s other project is probing for new mechanisms that underlie pancreatic cancers and then using these to develop strategies to treat them. She is applying ribosome profiling to human pancreatic tumors to identify amino acid deficiencies that can be utilized to target key metabolic pathways for cancer treatment.

M. Teresa Ciudad, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Ciudad received her PhD in Immunology from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain). Her doctoral thesis analyzed HLA-DR-peptide repertoires in tolerance and autoimmune diseases, such as Graves’ disease and Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), as well as the role of extracellular proteolysis in the generation of immunodominant peptides. She joined Dr. McGaha’s lab in 2016 to continue working in autoimmunity.

Dr. Ciudad work involves manipulating macrophages (MΦ) to be used as therapeutic target in T1D and to promote β-islet transplant tolerance. Dr. Ciudad is doing whole-genome CRISPR/Cas9 screenings in regulatory MΦ to identify new suppressive pathways and molecules that can be enhanced, limiting off-target effects resulting from generalized suppression. At the same time, Dr. Ciudad is delineating the role (either pro- or anti -inflammatory) of unfolded protein response and integrated stress response mediators (i.e. GCN2, XBP1, PERK) in MΦ phenotype and islet destruction in T1D.

Rahul Shinde, DVM, PhD

Research Associate

Dr. Shinde completed DVM from Nagpur Veterinary College in the year 2009 and later graduated with a Ph.D. in Immunology from Augusta University in 2015.  His recent studies showed that macrophage uptake of apoptotic cells activate aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) signaling and is required for immunologic tolerance and prevention of systemic autoimmunity. Currently, Dr. Shinde is working on testing mechanisms regulating immune cell functions in pancreatic cancer. He is particularly interested in metabolic signaling in myeloid cells in pancreatic cancer resistance to therapy and disease progression. His work utilizes cutting-edge technologies including single-cell RNAseq, ATAC seq, ChIP seq, and CyTOF to further understand tumor infiltrates and their function. 

Russell Dickson, PhD

Scientific Associate

Dr. Dickson completed an Honors Specialization in Bioinformatics (Computer Science Concentration) at Western University, with a Minor in Game Development and a Certificate in Writing. He then completed a PhD in Biochemistry with a focus on computational biology; his thesis focused on using Information Theory and Machine Learning to improve Multiple Sequence Alignment, Phylogenetic Inference, and Protein Structure Prediction. He pursued postdoctoral training at the University of Washington. He has released several bioinformatics tools including the MIpToolset and LoCo.

Dr. Dickson provides bioinformatics support for the Tumor Immunotherapy Program at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, doing computational analysis and writing new software for a variety of projects in the McGaha lab. He is also interested in developing novel tools to analyze and visualize biological data generated by the McGaha Lab team. He manages the lab’s high-performance computational resources and this lab website.

Sara Lamorte, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Lamorte received her PhD from the University of Turin (Italy). Her doctoral thesis analyzed the role of the tumor microenvironment in cancer. She joined Dr. McGaha’s laboratory in 2016 to deepen the understanding of the role of myeloid cells such as macrophages in promoting tolerance against cancer.

Macrophages are phagocytes found essentially in all tissues with the role of engulfing and digesting not only foreign substances, but also apoptotic cells generated under homeostatic conditions. Clearance of apoptotic cell is essential for maintenance of tolerance of self-antigen. Dr. Lamorte hypothesizes that clearance of apoptotic cells, generated after chemotherapeutic treatment, will initiate a tolerogenic response against the tumor triggered by macrophages and involving recruitment of regulatory T cells as well as suppression of cytotoxic lymphocyte T activity. She is particularly interested in the pathways activated in macrophages by the process of apoptotic cell clearance and the possibility of developing targets inhibiting these pathways as adjuvant therapy in cancer treatment.

Xin Zhang, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

During her PhD at Xiamen University, Xin Zhang studied protein post-translational modification (SUMOylation, Ubiqitination) and DNA damage-induced autophagy and mitophagy. Dr. Zhang joined Dr. McGaha’s lab in 2018 to study the link between mTOR pathway and immunity.

The development of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is due to the loss of tolerance of nuclear antigens exposed by apoptotic cells. Many studies have reported that increased IDO activity correlates with SLE-disease flare. IDO-GCN2 is a key molecular regulator driving the process of tolerance to apoptotic cells. Furthermore, mTOR plays a key role in regulating cellular metabolism, cytokine response, antigen presentation and macrophage polarization. In summary, Dr. Zhang aims to understand how IDO and its downstream targets – GCN2 and mTOR – may be critical for the tolerogenic immunity of apoptotic cells, which may ultimately provide important insight into SLE.  

Graduate Students

Luke Neufeld

Ph.D. Student

Luke received his BSc in Biochemistry (Honours) with a Minor in Business from the University of Victoria. During his final year he completed an immunology focused undergraduate thesis under the supervision of Dr. Brad Nelson at the BC Cancer Agency’s Deeley Research Centre. Luke’s thesis focused on improving adoptive cell therapy using alternative techniques for human T cell culture. He began his PhD at the University of Toronto in 2018, joining Dr. McGaha’s lab at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

Pancreatic cancer has an extremely poor prognosis and is characterized by resistance to therapy, hypoxia, and immune infiltration. Tumour associated macrophages (TAM) constitute a major immune cell population that plays an immunosuppressive role within the pancreatic tumour. Luke aims to elucidate the interplay between tumour hypoxia and aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) signalling in driving the suppressive phenotype of TAMs. The goal of this research is to modulate the immune response to pancreatic cancer by manipulating these two signalling pathways within TAMs. Ultimately, components of these pathways could be targeted by novel therapeutics to spur an immune response to pancreatic cancer.

Priya Makhijani, MSc

Ph.D. Student

Priya received her B.Sc. in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of British Columbia in 2010. Her first look into how research impacts human health came from working at Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals where she was part of their recombinant factor VII production team in Berkeley, CA as a co-op student. After completing her degree, fascinated by research, she worked as a technician at Harvard University for two years. Here, she studied induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology and pancreatic development in the lab of Dr. Douglas Melton and first found her drive for discovery. Thrilled by developmental biology and driven by a need to return home to Canada, she worked in the labs of Dr. Gordon Keller and Dr. Juan-Carlos Zuniga-Pflucker studying hepatic and hematopoetic development. From 2015 to 2017, she completed a M.Sc. with the University of Toronto in the Zuniga-Pflucker lab studying cell reprogramming, and thymic and T cell development.

Upon the completion of her M.Sc., Priya began her Ph.D. studies in Dr. Tracy McGaha's lab in the world-renowned Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Here, she works on deciphering the messages sent by a number of different cell types in the complex tumor tissue, to macrophages and myeloid cells to module their fate and function. In particular, she looks at tumor derived exosomes (TDE), their cargo and its role on macrophage activation in the spleen, lymph nodes and bone marrow. She hopes to apply herself to current clinical problems including the refractory nature of pancreatic cancers and the accumulation of myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) in cancer patients. Through her Ph.D. studies, she also hopes to hone her ability to ask and answer impactful scientific questions.

Outside the lab, Priya writes articles on topics of popular science for IMMPress and IMS Magazine. She also works with a local, non-profit organization called hEr VOLUTION writing grants and proposals for programs that increase and maintain female participation in STEM-based fields, targeting low-income and at-risk girls and women from the Greater Toronto Area.

Research Technicians

Drew Wallace, MSc

Research Technician

Drew attended Western University where he received his B.Sc. in Biology and M.Sc. in Developmental Biology. During his M.Sc., Drew studied the role of G protein signaling modulator 3, a protein classically associated with G protein signaling pathways in mammalian cell division.

Drew handles patient samples from a number of clinical trials which fall under the umbrella of the Tumor Immunotherapy Program at PMH. Drew’s work involves processing these clinical samples, with a focus on using flow cytometry to sort the immune cell populations for further downstream analysis.

 

Reema Deol, MSc

Research Associate

Reema Deol received her M.Sc at the University of Guelph in Molecular and Cellular Biology (specializing in Toxicology). Reema’s thesis focused on characterizing the substrate specificity of human N-acetyl-transferase 8 for aromatic cysteine conjugates of toxicological importance. Prior to that she received her B.Sc in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Waterloo.

She joined the Tumor Immunotherapy Program at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in March 2016. Reema plans and coordinates clinical activity by tracking, monitoring, preparing and analyzing clinical trial samples. She is also responsible for managing the HPLC and MoFlo Astrios sorter.

Zeynep Kahramanoğlu, MSc

Research Technician

Zeynep Kahramanoğlu received her B.Sc. at the University of Guelph, specializing in Molecular Biology and Genetics. Later, she earned her master’s degree in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine with a collaborative degree in Developmental Biology from Western University. Her master’s thesis focused on the effects of chemotherapy on late-stage ovarian cancer tumor cells and surrounding tumor microvasculature. Her experience as a researcher developed through several institutions including Mt. Sinai Hospital and the Princess Margaret Cancer Research Tower, where she studied a variety of cancers such as osteosarcoma and breast cancer.

She joined Dr. McGaha’s lab in March 2018 as a Research Technician working mainly with animal models of cancer and autoimmunity.