Systemic Immunity and the Cancer Macroenvironment

We are fascinated by where different steps of an immune response take place across the body and how these processes are coordinated across locations.

While most studies in cancer immunology have focused on processes taking place within the tumor itself (i.e., the tumor microenvironment), we now understand that immune responses outside the tumor are critical for effective anti-tumor immunity. We found that cancer development changes the set point of the immune system broadly outside of the tumor, impacting both the types of immune cells that are present in different sites as well as the function of the immune system. 

Ongoing studies in the lab aim to understand how cancer immunotherapies work in the context of different immune macroenvironments. We are interested in how and where immunotherapies activate immune cells and how these responses are coordinated across anatomic locations. We are also studying ways to improve T cell priming in the context of cancer, a new barrier that we recently discovered. Our studies leverage various mouse models of cancer and strong collaborations with the UCSF Head and Neck Oncology and Breast Oncology Programs, enabling us to study these processes in patients with cancer.

Selected Publications

Systemic Immunity Is Required for Effective Cancer Immunotherapy
Cell, 2017
Comprehensive Immune Monitoring of Clinical Trials to Advance Human Immunotherapy
Cell, 2019
Systemic Dysfunction and Plasticity Of The Immune Macroenvironment In Cancer Models
Nature, 2020

Research Team

Cassandra (Casey) Burnett

PhD Student, Biomedical Sciences

Jacqueline (Jackie) Yee

PhD Student, Biomedical Sciences

Maha Rahim, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Nam Woo Cho, MD PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow, Radiation Oncology Resident

Rachel Headshot
Rachel DeBarge

PhD Student, Biomedical Sciences


Media highlights of Spitzer Lab's research.
Successful Immunotherapy Requires System-Wide Immune Response
Tumours disrupt the immune scenery
Tumors disrupt the immune system throughout the body