Explore the Demehri Lab

Research Summary

The focus of the Demehri laboratory is to determine the role of the immune system in regulating the early stages of cancer development in order to harness its anti-tumor potential for cancer prevention and treatment. To date, several cancer immunotherapies have been developed with proven efficacy against late-stage cancers; however, the role of the immune system in preventing the early development of cancer remains uncertain. The research in the Demehri laboratory is focused on identifying the immune mechanisms that drive an immune activation sufficient to prevent cancer formation from pre-cancerous lesions. This approach raises a great opportunity to discover novel immune pathways that can be leveraged in cancer prevention and therapy.

demehri lab research
Immune Regulation of Early Cancer Development

Research Projects

The field of cancer immunology has made substantial advances in recent years by deciphering the role of the tumor infiltrating CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) in attacking cancer cells, which have led to promising new cancer immunotherapeutics. The current immunotherapeutic approaches, however, are largely designed to boost the anti-tumor immune response that has already formed against late-stage metastatic cancers. Therefore, the current cancer immunotherapies like immune checkpoint blockade, which rely on a pre-existing CTL infiltrate in the tumor for their effects, are proven ineffective to treat cancers that frequently lack a significant anti-tumor immune infiltrate, especially during the early in-situ phases of their development. In order to expand the potential of cancer immunotherapy, our laboratory studies the pathways that lead to immune system activation against early phases of cancer development. Devising a mechanism to activate the immune system against earlystage cancers has clear immunopreventive implications by directly blocking the cancer promotion and immunotherapeutic benefits by potentiating the immunity against late disease.

To pursue this goal, our laboratory studies the role of alarmins, damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs)/stress signals, commensal viruses, carcinogens, and agingassociated factors in regulating early cancer development. The major areas of research in our laboratory are:

  1. Mechanisms of CD4+ T cell activation against cancer. Our laboratory has studied the mechanism of thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) in evoking tumor suppression. TSLP is an epithelial-derived cytokine that plays a central role in stimulating CD4+ T helper 2 (Th2)-mediated allergic diseases like atopic dermatitis and asthma. We have shown that high TSLP levels establish a dominant anti-tumorigenic immune environment preventing cancer promotion. Currently, our team investigates the detailed mechanism of TSLP anti-tumor function against solid cancers and examines its application for the treatment of precancerous skin and breast lesions in patients.
  2. Mechanisms of natural killer (NK) cell recruitment and activation against cancer. NK cells are known for their potent antitumor properties. However, their role in controlling cancer development in vivo remains unclear. Our laboratory utilizes an NK cell-specific activating ligand to determine the combination of signals necessary to activate NK cells against early stages of carcinogenesis and to identify the mechanism of anti-tumor immunity mounted by the activated NK cells to block cancer promotion and progression.
  3. The impact of commensal viruses-immune system interplay on the homeostasis of the organs exposed to environmental carcinogens. We aim to determine how the immune system’s control of commensal virome regulates the homeostasis of the virus-colonized tissues. Through this effort, we aim to realize the beneficial functions of commensal virome for the prevention and treatment of cancer and other chronic diseases that affect humans.
  4. Mechanisms of cancer promotion by the immune system. Although immune cells can mount anti-tumor immunity against cancer, they are also implicated in promoting cancer development in chronic inflammation. Our laboratory studies the initiating mechanisms of cancer-prone chronic inflammation development in the skin, pancreas, colon and liver, which are the major organs affected by chronic inflammation and its cancer sequela.

Research Positions

Postdoctoral Research Fellow position is available for a highly motivated individual with expertise in immunology, cancer biology and genomics. Expertise in biochemical, immunological and mice experimentations are required for this position.

Interested candidates should send their information including CV and the name of 2-3 references to Dr. Shawn Demehri: sdemehri1@mgh.harvard.edu


For the full list of publications from the Demehri lab, please visit PubMed here.

Huang, M., Xia, Y., Li, K., Shao, F., Feng, Z., Li, T., Azin, M., and Demehri, S., Carcinogen exposure enhances cancer immunogenicity by blocking the development of an immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment. J Clin Invest. 2023 Oct 16;133(20). PMID: 37843274.

Hasegawa, T., Oka, T., Son, H. G., Oliver-García, V. S., Azin, M., Eisenhaure, T. M., Lieb, D.J., Hacohen, N., Demehri, S., Cytotoxic CD4+ T cells eliminate senescent cells by targeting cytomegalovirus antigen. Cell. 2023 Mar 30;186(7):1417-1431.e20. PMID: 37001502.

Boieri, M., Malishkevich, A., Guennoun, R., Marchese, E., Kroon, S., Trerice, K. E., Awad, M., Park, J. H., Iyer, S., Kreuzer, J., Haas, W., Rivera, M. N., Demehri, S., CD4+ T helper 2 cells suppress breast cancer by inducing terminal differentiation. J Exp Med. 2022 Jul 4;219(7) PMID: 35657353.

Bunting, M.D., Vyas, M., Requesens, M., Langenbucher, A., Schiferle, E. B., Manguso, R. T., Lawrence, M. S., Demehri, S., Extracellular matrix proteins regulate NK cell function in peripheral tissues. Science Advances. 2022 Mar 18;8(11):eabk3327. PMCID: PMC8926340.

Schiferle, E. B., Cheon, S. Y., Ham, S., Son, H. G., Messerschmidt, J. L., Lawrence, D. P., Cohen, J. V., Flaherty, K. T., Moon, J. J., Lian, C. G., Sullivan, R. J., Demehri, S., Rejection of benign melanocytic nevi by nevus-resident CD4(+) T cells. Science Advances 7, (2021).

Li, K., Li, T., Feng, Z., Huang, M., Wei, L., Yan, Z., Long, M., Hu, Q., Wang, J., Liu, S., Sgroi, D. C., Demehri, S., CD8(+) T cell immunity blocks the metastasis of carcinogen-exposed breast cancer. Science Advances 7, (2021).

Park, J. H., Ameri, A. H., Dempsey, K. E., Conrad, D. N., Kem, M., Mino-Kenudson, M., Demehri, S., Nuclear IL-33/SMAD signaling axis promotes cancer development in chronic inflammation. EMBO J 40, (2021).

Strickley JD, Messerschmidt JL, Awad ME, Li T, Hasegawa T, Ha DT, Nabeta HW, Bevins PA, Ngo KH, Asgari MM, Nazarian RM, Neel VA, Jenson AB, Joh J, and Demehri S. Immunity to commensal papillomaviruses protects against skin cancer. Nature. 2019 Nov;575(7783):519-522. PMID: 31666702.

Rosenberg AR, Tabacchi M, Ngo KH, Wallendorf M, Rosman IS, Cornelius LA, Demehri S. Skin cancer precursor immunotherapy for squamous cell carcinoma prevention. JCI Insight. 2019;4(6). Epub 2019/03/22. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.125476.

Ameri AH, Moradi Tuchayi S, Zaalberg A, Park JH, Ngo KH, Li T, Lopez E, Colonna M, Lee RT, Mino-Kenudson M, Demehri S. IL-33/regulatory T cell axis triggers the development of a tumor-promoting immune environment in chronic inflammation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2019. Epub 2019/01/31. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1815016116. 

Cunningham, T.J., Tabacchi, M., Eliane, J.P., Tuchayi, S.M., Manivasagam, S., Mirzaalian, H., Turkoz, A., Kopan, R., Schaffer, A., Saavedra, A.P., Wallendorf, M., Cornelius, L.A., and Demehri, S. Randomized trial of calcipotriol combined with 5-fluorouracil for skin cancer precursor immunotherapy. J Clin Invest 2017; 127(1): 106-116.

Our Researchers

Shawn DemehriShawn Demehri, M.D., Ph.D.

Associate Professor
Massachusetts General Hospital
Harvard Medical School

B.S.: Biology, Washington State University
M.D.: Washington University in St. Louis
Ph.D.: Cell and Molecular Biology, Washington University in St. Louis
Residency: Dermatology, Barnes Jewish Hospital/ Washington University
Postdoctoral Fellowship: Immunology, Washington University in St. Louis


Marjan Azin Marjan Azin, M.D.

Research Fellow

M.D.: Tehran University of Medical Sciences (TUMS), Iran

Marjan received her medical diploma from Tehran University of Medical Science in 2015. She has directed research projects at her hospital, studying the prognostic significance of Matrix Metalloproteinase-7 (MMP-7) in colorectal cancer survival, the effect of exercise program in serum Vaspin level in diabetic patients, and studying sleep disorders in patients with neuropathic pain. At Children Medical Center, she the immune dysregulation in children with allergic skin diseases. Marjan is studying the role of alarmins in suppressing cancer development in patients with breast cancer cutaneous metastasis in the Demehri lab.


Danielle Conrad Danielle Conrad

Research Technologist (Lab Manager)

B.A.: Anthropology, University of Cincinnati
B.A.: Archaeology, University of Cincinnati
B.S.: Biological Science, University of Rhode Island

Danielle joined Demehri lab as a Biological Science graduate from URI. With a background in healthcare, she is assisting with the clinical aspects of the laboratory research and working with other lab members on their research projects. She is interested in studying the role that genetics play in cancer development and treatment.


Magda Dawit Magda Dawit

Undergraduate Student

Magda is an undergraduate student at Northeastern University pursuing a B.S. degree in Health Science on the Premed track. She is working with other lab members to determine the role of polyomaviruses on immune response in cancer and inflammatory diseases while expanding her knowledge of the field and her research skills.


Hiroshi HiguchiHiroshi Higuchi, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

B.S., M.S. & Ph.D.: Bioengineering, Nagoya University, Japan

Hiroshi received his Ph.D. in 2016 studying the role of sialic acid-binding lectin Siglecs in the inflammatory regulation in macrophages. He also worked on the analysis of macrophage function in the development of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-associated B-cell lymphoma as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Japan. In this study, he demonstrated the importance of extracellular vesicles as a novel communicator between tumor cells and macrophages. His current work in the Demehri Lab is focused on the innate immune function of epithelial cells in response to papillomavirus infection.


Satoshi HoribaSatoshi Horiba

Research Fellow

B.S.: Bioscience, Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences, Japan
M.S.: Frontier Sciences, University of Tokyo, Japan

Satoshi received his M.S. degree in Frontier Sciences from the University of Tokyo. After graduation, he joined the Shiseido company in Japan, where he studied the collagen function in skin aging. He also worked on analyzing the effect of macrophages, especially the balance of M1/ M2 macrophages, on skin aging. In the Demehri lab, Satoshi studies the immune system's role in regulating skin aging.


Truelian LeeTruelian Lee

Medical Student

B.A.: Chemistry and English, Harvard College
M.D.: Harvard Medical School (in progress)

Truelian graduated from Harvard College in 2021 and is currently a medical student at Harvard Medical School pursuing an M.D. degree in the Pathways program. She previously conducted research on Shigella pathogenesis at MGH/HMS. Her work in the Demehri Lab is focused on the application of thymic stromal lymphopoietin cytokine induction for precancerous skin lesions and invasive skin cancer treatment.


Emanuela MarcheseEmanuela Marchese, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

B.S.: Biotechnology for Health, University of Naples Federico II, Italy
M.S.: Biology, University of Naples Federico II, Italy
Ph.D.: Medical Clinical and Experimental Science, University of Campania “L.Vanvitelli”, Italy

Emanuela received her Ph.D. in 2021 studying kidney disease pathophysiology in Bardet-Biedl Syndrome. She has also been involved in several skin biology projects and has led efforts to develop proteomics- and metabolomics-based platforms. After completed her Ph.D. training, Emanuela was awarded the AICF’s postdoctoral fellowship to perform her training in the Demehri lab. Her current work is focused on the role of the immune system in regulating the early stages of cancer development in skin and breast cancer. In addition, she is studying the immunology of transition zones to determine the mechanisms of disease susceptibilities associated with these epithelial sites.


Alex McGarryAlex McGarry

Undergraduate Student

Alex is pursuing a B.S. in Biology at Boston University. He is participating in projects involving NK cell activation in solid tumors via extracellular matrix proteins and the role of TSLP in postnatal breast gland differentiation. Through working in the lab, he continues to broaden his understanding of research regarding immunology as well as develop wet skills within the lab.


Tomonori OkaTomonori Oka, M.D., Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

M.D.: University of Tokyo, Japan
Ph.D.: Dermatology, University of Tokyo, Japan

Tomonori received his Ph.D. degree in Dermatological sciences in 2018 studying the role of CXCL17 in psoriasis. During his clinical work as a dermatologist, he has focused on cutaneous T-cell lymphoma and atopic dermatitis. In the Demehri Lab, Tomonori is studying the mechanisms of skin cancer immunoprevention.


Heehwa (Grace) SonHeehwa (Grace) Son, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

B.Sc.: Biotechnology, Konkuk University, Seoul, South Korea
M.S. & Ph.D.: Molecular biology and Genetics, Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), Pohang, South Korea

Heehwa received her PhD in molecular biology and genetics in 2018 studying the roles of RNA quality controls in aging process using a model organism, C. elegans. She found that one of the RNA quality control mechanisms, nonsense-mediated mRNA decay, has protective effects against aging. She also worked on investigating the roles of chaperones in lifespan regulation. In the Demehri lab, she is working on the cellular impacts of immunotherapies on early stage epithelial cancers.


Ingie Sorour Ingie Sorour

Research Technician

B.A.: Neuroscience, University of Chicago

Ingie graduated from the University of Chicago in 2022 receiving a BA in Neuroscience with a minor in Health and Society on the Premed track. During her undergraduate career, she conducted research at Harvard Medical School to study the temporal dynamics of Sonic Hedgehog protein expression in the cortex of the mammalian brain and how changes of its expression may play a role in the formation of neuronal structures. She also conducted research at UChicago Medicine, focusing on asthma health disparities in both clinical and community settings, particularly in underserved areas. In the Demehri lab, Ingie is working to understand the role of the immune system in suppressing carcinogenesis in epithelial tissues when the DNA repair mechanisms are impaired.


Ryota Tanaka, M.D., Ph.D.Ryota Tanaka, M.D., Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

M.D.: University of Tsukuba, Japan
Ph.D.: Dermatology, University of Tsukuba, Japan

Ryota worked as a clinician in Japan, trained both as a dermatologist and an oncologist. In 2020, he received his Ph.D. degree demonstrating the pathophysiology of anti-programmed cell death (PD)-1 antibody-induced psoriasiform dermatitis. He also has shown differential involvement of PD-ligands in skin immune responses. In the Demehri Lab, Ryota is working on a project to elucidate the role of the immune system in suppressing the carcinogenesis of epithelial tissues in which mutated DNA is accumulated.


Olivia TuckerOlivia Tucker

Research Technician

B.S.: Animal Science, Cornell University

Olivia graduated from Cornell University in 2023 receiving a bachelor’s degree in animal science on the Pre-vet track. During her undergraduate career, she conducted research to study single nucleotide polymorphisms in genes affecting reproductive health and milk production. She also conducted research at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine to study mechanisms of regeneration in stem cells. In the Demehri lab, Olivia is working with other lab members to study the role of viral immunology in cancer prevention.


Dongyao Wang, Ph.D.Dongyao Wang, Ph.D.

Research Fellow

B.Sc.: Preventive medicine, Norman Bethune Health Science Center, Jilin University, China
Ph.D.: Immunology, University of Science and Technology of China, China

Dongyao received his PhD degree and completed postdoctoral work in immunology from University of Science and Technology of China (USTC). His work demonstrated that pharmacologic inhibition of GARP-mediated active TGF-β1 signaling could restore NK cell-mediated graft-versus-leukemia (GVL) activity. In addition, he demonstrated that sequential low-dose IL-2 therapy increased the frequency and function of HBV-specific CD8+ T cells, which contributed to HBeAg seroconversion, among the non-responder chronic hepatitis B patients after IFN-α therapy. Furthermore, he found that the inhibition of IL-11-STAT3 signaling could significantly suppress postsurgical recurrence of liver cancer. In the Demehri Lab, Dongyao studies the role of NK cells and chronic inflammation in liver cancer.


Yun Xia, Ph.D.Yun Xia, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

B.Sc.: Biotechnology, Anhui normal University, China
M.Sc.: Immunology, Soochow University, China
Ph.D.: Immunology, Tsinghua University, China

Yun received his PhD degree in immunology from Tsinghua University in 2020. He found that mevalonate pathway inhibitors could induce strong immune responses and were suitable for vaccine adjuvants. The adjuvanticity associated with mevalonate pathway inhibition activates multiple arms of immunity, including Th1 and cytolytic T cell responses and is thus suitable for cancer immunotherapies. This discovery presented a new approach for the development of both vaccine and cancer research. In the Demehri lab, Yun focuses on studying the role of alarmins in COVID-19 response and the role of commensal viruses in immunity at epithelial sites.


Amy ZengAmy Zeng

Undergraduate Student

Amy is an undergraduate at Tufts University, studying Biology and Life Chemistry on the Pre-med track. She previously interned at a company in China, which focused on advancing CAR-T cell therapies. In the Demehri lab, she is working with other lab members to explore the role of papillomavirus on immune response activation against cancer. During her time in the lab, she hopes to expand her research skills and explore the possibilities of early cancer prevention.


Eray Yihui Zhou, M.D.Eray Yihui Zhou, M.D.

Graduate Student

B.M.: Yuanpei College, Peking University, China
M.D.: Health Science Centre, Peking University, China
M.MSc.: Clinical Investigation, Harvard Medical School (Degree in progress)

Eray is currently a master's student at Harvard Medical School. He graduated from a dermatology residency at Beijing Tsinghua Changgung Hospital, Tsinghua University in 2020. He focuses his research on the genetic backgrounds of cutaneous malignancies and genodermatoses. In the Demehri Lab, Eray is investigating the alteration of commensal skin virome and its association with cutaneous malignancies in the immunosuppressed population.


Xutu Zhao, M.D.Xutu Zhao, M.D.

Research Fellow

B.M.: Zhongshan Medical School, Sun Yat-sen University, China
M.D.: Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hospital, Sun Yat-sen University, China

Xutu received his M.D. from Sun Yat-sen University in 2022. He worked as a clinician and focused on treating malignant breast tumors at the First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University in China. In the Demehri lab, his work will focus on investigating the role of the immune system in regulating the development of breast cancer.



Demehri Lab Alumni
  • Amir Ameri, M.D.
    After the Demehri Lab: Internal Medicine Resident at the Johns Hopkins University
  • Mary Awad, M.D.
    After the Demehri Lab: Dermatology Resident at University of Massachusetts School of Medicine
  • Margherita Boieri, Ph.D.
    After the Demehri Lab: Scientist at Zelluna Immunotherapy, Norway
  • Jasmine Blandin
    After the Demehri Lab: Medical student at Médecine Sorbonne Université, Paris, France
  • Mark Bunting, Ph.D.
    After the Demehri Lab: Postdoctoral Fellow in the Genome Editing Laboratory at the University of Adelaide and South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHRMI), Australia
  • Scarlett (Se Yun) Cheon
    After the Demehri Lab: Medical Student at Tulane University (starting in 2023)
  • Rikke Louise Christensen, M.Sc.
    After the Demehri Lab: Graduate Student at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Trevor Cunningham
    After the Demehri Lab: Senior Research Technologist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
  • Kaitlin Dempsey
    After the Demehri Lab: Physician Assistant Student at Cornell University
  • Roy Feng, M.D.
    After the Demehri Lab: Sr. Physician at BeiGene Co., China
  • Ranya Guennoun
    After the Demehri Lab: MD-PhD Student at Washington University in St. Louis
  • Aeden Ghebreselassie, MSN, NP-C
    After the Demehri Lab: Family Nurse Practitioner, Woodbridge, Virginia
  • Tatsuya Hasegawa, Ph.D.
    After the Demehri Lab: Scientist at Shiseido Co., Japan
  • Jennet Hojanazarova
    After the Demehri Lab: Immunology PhD student at Harvard University
  • Mei Huang, Ph.D
    After the Demehri Lab: Associate Research Fellow at University of Science and Technology, China
  • Sanne Kroon
    After the Demehri Lab: PhD student in ETH Zurich, Inst. of Molecular Health Sciences, Netherlands
  • Kaiwen Li, M.D.
    After the Demehri Lab: Associate Professor in the Department of Urology at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hospital, China
  • Tiancheng Li, M.D.
    After the Demehri Lab: Associate Professor and Associate Chief Physician in the Department of Otolaryngology at Peking University First Hospital, China
  • Elena Lopez
    After the Demehri Lab: MD/MBA Student at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine (starting in 2022)
  • Jonathan Messerschmidt
    After the Demehri Lab: MD-PhD Student at Duke University
  • Sara Moradi Tuchayi, M.D., M.P.H.
    After the Demehri Lab: Postdoctoral Fellow at Wellman Center, MGH
  • Mahsa Mortaja, M.D.
    After the Demehri Lab: Postdoctoral Fellow at CBRC, MGH
  • Kenneth Ngo
    After the Demehri Lab: Lead Research Associate at Dana Farber Cancer Institute
  • Valeria Oliver-García
    After the Demehri Lab: Medical student at Ponce Health Sciences University School of Medicine, Puerto Rico
  • Jongho Park, Ph.D.
    After the Demehri Lab: Assistant Professor, Keimyung University, Korea
  • Domitille Peigney
    After the Demehri Lab: Master’s student in Biology and Health, École Normale Supérieure Paris-Saclay, Université Paris-Saclay, France
  • Quan Pham
    After the Demehri Lab: Immunology PhD student at the Rockefeller University
  • Marta Requesens Rueda
    After the Demehri Lab: PhD student in Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Groningen (RUG), Netherlands
  • Erik Schiferle
    After the Demehri Lab: PhD Student at Boston University
  • Grace Seifu
    After the Demehri Lab: Undergraduate Student at Harvard University
  • Sabrina Smith
    After the Demehri Lab: Medical Student at the University of Central Florida
  • Kathryn Trerice
    After the Demehri Lab: Undergraduate Student at Harvard University
  • Maulik Vyas, Ph.D.
    After the Demehri Lab: Senior Scientist at Bristol Myers Squibb
  • Bo Wang, Ph.D.
    After the Demehri Lab: Associate Research Fellow at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hospital, Sun Yat-sen University, China
  • Anniek Zaalberg
    After the Demehri Lab: PhD Student at Netherlands Cancer Institute, Netherlands
  • Anna Zemel, Ph.D.
    After the Demehri Lab: Instructor at Ariel University, Israel