Lee Lab

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional

Dean Lee, MD, PhD
Principal Investigator

Dean Anthony Lee, MD, PhD, is a physician in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and director of the Cellular Therapy and Cancer Immunology Program at Nationwide Children's Hospital and The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. He is a professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and the DiMarco Family Endowed Chair in Cell Based Therapy.

Dr. Lee earned his bachelor’s degree in natural sciences from Fresno Pacific College, completed his medical, doctoral, and pediatric residency training at Loma Linda University then completed a fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology at Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Lee is chair of the Cellular Therapy Strategy Group for the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Consortium, member of the NIH Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee, and member of the Cell Therapy Steering Committee for the Children’s Oncology Group.

Nationwide Children's Researcher

Meisam Naeimi Kararoudi, DVM, PhD
Research Assistant Professor
Director, CRISPR Core

Dr. Meisam Naeimi Kararoudi is an assistant professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. He is also the director of the CRISPR/Gene Editing Core and a principal investigator in the Center for Childhood Cancer at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. Naeimi Kararoudi received his veterinary surgery degree from Iran. He obtained his doctorate degree from the University of Perugia, Italy, and was trained as an Erasmus scholar at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom. During his time as a postdoctoral scientist in Dr. Dean Lee’s laboratory, Dr. Naeimi Kararoudi developed a method to genetically modify the hard-to-transfect human Natural Killer cells using CRISPR and identified novel approaches to enhance their cytotoxicity and to target cancers via chimeric antigen receptors. Dr. Naeimi Kararoudi is developing novel gene edited immune cells such as NK cells and T-cells for cancer immunotherapy.

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Prashant Trikha
Research Scientist

Immune evasion is an important step in tumor progression, and cancer cells are known to evade the host immune system in the establishment of metastatic disease. I have been investigating of how aberrant signaling between cancer cells and the innate immune cells in the tumor microenvironment (TME) promotes tumor growth. Furthermore, I have examined the mechanisms of how suppressive immune cells including, MDSC attenuate the function of natural killer cell (NK) in cancer patients. NK cells from cancer patients with are significantly impaired, the focus of my current research is to investigate the role of NK cells in cancer surveillance and to better understand the molecular mechanisms that lead to NK cell dysfunction in cancer patients. I am keen on developing NK cell based therapies for treatment of patients with hematological malignancies and solid cancers

Nationwide Children's Researcher

Michelle Watts
Cell Therapy Program Manager

The Joint Cell Therapy program is a partnership between Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center to be at the frontline in the development of these new treatments. The collaboration is dedicated to pursuing clinical trials and translational research to develop innovative approaches. As the program manager, Michelle Watts coordinates from bench to bedside facilitating Phase I and Phase II cell therapy clinical trials at both institutions.

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Aarohi Thakkar
Chief Research Associate

Aarohi is Chief Research Associate in the Lee Lab. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology from Sardar Patel University, India in 2007. In 2008 she completed her PGD in Biodiversity Management with thesis. After that she joined Foundation for Research In Genetics and Endocrinology (FRIGE) Institute, Ahmedabad, India to receive training in Cytogenetics. Following that she went on to receive Masters in Science in Biotechnology with Molecular Biology from the University of Houston Clear Lake, Houston in 2010. She began her work in science at Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children's Hospital evaluating biomarkers of hippocampal neurogenesis, notch signaling and establishing in vitro system with iPSC derived neurons of patients with idiopathic autism to find physiological and biological differences. Following her time in this lab, she joined Cell and Gene Therapy Center at Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children’s Hospital working on bispecific engager NKT & T cells, anti-CD19 CAR T cells and cellular therapies of viral-specific cytotoxic T cell for EBV+ Lymphomas and. From here, she moved to Cincinnati Children's Hospital where she evaluated TFAM mutation and the biguanide sensitivity of pediatric GBM.

She joined the Nationwide Children's in 2017, working first in CMF where she specifically worked in cell-based therapy lab on process development and transitioning it to cGMP compliant production. She joined the Lee Lab working on process development for natural killer cell and T cell therapies. She has established process for closed-system automated large-scale expansion of clinical-grade Natural Killer Cells. Additionally she is working on development of potency assays for cellular immunotherapies for advanced phase clinical trials. Her current projects are genetic-modification of human NK cells using CRISPR/Cas9 to enhance the function of NK cells against host-tumor microenvironment suppression, closed-system clinical-grade production of allogeneic TGFβ-imprinted canine NK cells for canine osteosarcoma clinical trial and development & characterization of new T cell therapies.

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Marcelo S.F. Pereira, PhD
Post-Doctoral Fellow

As a São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) scholar, Marcelo conducted his undergrad and master research under the supervision of Dr. João Santana da Silva and Dr. Ana Paula Campanelli at the School of Medicine of Ribeirão Preto, FMRP-USP – São Paulo/Brazil. His focus in undergrad was understanding the modulation of immune and granulomatous inflammatory response during P. brasiliensis infection. He obtained his Masters degree in Basic and Applied Immunology there and studied the role of CD4+ and CD8+ cells in immune protection to P. brasiliensis.

Marcelo obtained his Ph.D. degree in cellular and molecular biology in Dr. Dario Simōes Zamboni’s Lab at the same academic institution. At this time, his research was focused on the determination of immune response mechanisms that contribute to the control of Legionella pneumophila in a murine model.

As an immunologist and now part of Dr. Lee’s Lab at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, his focus is to study how immunotherapy mediated by NK cells can tackle pediatric cancer.

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Brian P. Tullius, MD
Clinical Fellow

Brian is a California native who received his dual bachelors degree in Philosophy and Biology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, OH. He stayed on at Franciscan University for an additional year to complete his Masters of Arts in Philosophy before starting medical school at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine on the US Navy's Health Professional Scholarship Program. Graduating from medical school in 2008, he began his Pediatric Internship while on active duty at Naval Medical Center San Diego. Selected out of residency to train in the prestigious Naval Flight Surgeon Program at Pensacola, FL, Brian received his "Wings of Gold" in 2009 and commenced service as an air wing flight surgeon with Carrier Air Wing TWO. Completing 2 combat deployments, he accepted a position as command flight surgeon with the experimental squadron Air Test and Evaluation Squadron THREE ZERO before resigning his commission in the Navy and returning to his residency training as a civilian.

Brian completed his Pediatric Residency at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, California in 2017, receiving the Dennis M Styne Award for Academic Excellence for his work developing a clinical guideline for thromboprophylaxis in pediatric cancer patients that was endorsed and published by the International Society of Thrombosis and Haemostasis. He matched for his Pediatric Hematology/Oncology/Bone Marrow Transplant fellowship here at Nationwide Children's Hospital and is currently in his research years as a member of the Lee Lab. Brian's research in the lab focuses on the preclinical evaluation of tumor infiltrating natural killer cells cultured out of resected pediatric solid tumors. He will complete his fellowship training in 2020 and plans to pursue a career in pediatric bone marrow transplant.

Nationwide Children's Researcher

Robin Nakkula
Research Associate and Lab Manager

Robina Nakkula is a Research Associate and Lab Manager for the Lee Research Lab, who is continuing the sample collection and preservation process for ongoing and future research studies that span multiple research hospitals and institutions. She also works at analyzing and reporting on experimental findings, and assisting fellow researchers in the day-to-day workings of the lab.