Mustafa Khasraw MD
Principal Investigator
Professor of Neurosurgery
Professor in Pharmacology and Cancer Biology
Professor in Integrative Immunobiology
Professor in Medicine
Member of the Duke Cancer Institute
Contact Information


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Our lab aims to advance the field of cancer research through novel ideas and challenging the accepted paradigms. Using both wet and dry lab techniques, we aim to understand biologically relevant tumor-immune interactions and leverage them to identify therapeutic vulnerabilities to bring new therapies to patients. We have a unique environment that enables the translation of basic science discoveries to innovative clinical trials and accelerates the testing of new and effective therapies in cancer patients.

Research Initiatives

Primary Study Areas

  • Determine divergence in tumor cell signatures after interaction with the immune-neuronal microenvironment
  • Discern immunogenic glioma neoantigen–T cell receptor (TCR) pairs
  • Investigate brain tumor disruption of classical immune functions
  • Analyze biospecimens collected from patients on clinical trials to find prognostic and predictive biomarkers
  • Translate laboratory discoveries to surgical window of opportunity and other investigator-initiated clinical trials

Current Research Initiatives

  • Develop biologically relevant in vitro and in vivo models of human tumor and tumor microenvironment in parallel with dry lab technologies (bioinformatics) to answer important tumor and immune intrinsic questions
  • Integrate longitudinal human sample collection into multiple prospective protocols to answer pharmacological, immune, and biologic questions
  • Preclinical and clinical development of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) as a therapy for patients with CNS cancers
  • Design and test new methods to directly deliver immunotherapies safely into brain tumors

Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TIL)

Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TIL) for patients with GLIOMAS


Primary brain tumors are cancers that originate in the brain. These tumors are very different from secondary brain tumors, which originally develop elsewhere in the body and spread, or metastasize, to the brain. Primary brain tumors develop from glial cells that support the function of the nerve cells, which are responsible for thought, sensation, muscle control, and coordination. "Glioma" is the name of a tumor that develops from a glial cell.

Gliomas are extremely heterogeneous, including both malignant and non-malignant compartments, requiring analysis of individual cells (as opposed to an average of all cells) to understand glioma biology.

Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TIL) has been used to effectively treat patients with lung cancer and melanoma. Reproducing similar results in gliomas has been challenging because the brain does not contain a high number of T cells, which are the main immune cells responsible for recognizing and killing cancer. Cancer, including brain tumors, hide from these T cells in order to grow. The few T cells that are able to infiltrate close to and interact with the tumor soon become inert, inactive, and exhausted. Thus, brain tumors do not contain many TILs, and even when T cells are found in brain tumors, they tend to be ineffective. Therefore, here at Duke we have successfully developed a unique new method to isolate TILs using tumor samples obtained from brain tumor patients.


Our team has recently developed new methods to grow Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TIL) in the laboratory, making them more active, numerous, and able to recognize the cancer.


The cancer cells have specific proteins (antigens) that are foreign to the individual patient and are recognized as such by the T cell receptors (TCR) so that the T cells and other components of the immune system like antibodies eliminate the cancer cells. Deciphering which TCR recognizes the foreign proteins (antigens) and how they can more efficiently eliminate cancer cells is a very active area of research and holds the key to finding cures for many cancers, including gliomas.


We are working to generate TILs in an efficient, cost-effective manner, to create a protocol that can be transferred to the Duke cell manufacturing facility, and to generate the data the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will require before we can conduct a clinical trial in patients. We are also working in parallel on another line of research to improve function and specificity of the TIL to make them more effective before giving them back to patients with glioma to kill the cancer cells more effectively.


*The information above is original text from The Khasraw Lab at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke.

Pictures and Stories

In "Pictures and Stories", we share glimpses of our lab's journey through photos. From conferences to team outings and activities, we believe in celebrating every milestone, big or small. Our team of researchers is dedicated to making breakthrough discoveries that can contribute to the betterment of society. Through this page, we hope to give you a sneak peek into our world and share our experiences with you.


Dr. Mustafa Khasraw giving a keynote address at the 2023 European Association of Neurooncology. 


Dr. Kelly Hotchkiss drawing a crowd at her poster presentation on our TIL research at the 2023 American Association of Cancer Research conference.


A microscopic view of glioma cells obtained from our patients at the time of surgery and grown in the lab.


The Khasraw Lab in their new lab space in the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center.


Trick or Treating in the Department of Neurosurgery as the characters from The Wizard of Oz for Halloween 2023.


The Khasraw Lab at the Escape Room for the 2023 end of year celebration.


At the 2023 Society of Neurooncology (SNO) Poster Session and the lab was excited to support Dr. Hotchkiss’ (far right) talk on Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes.


To view publications associated with the Khasraw Lab, click here

Research Team


Kelly Hotchkiss, PhD

Research Scientist and Basic Science Lead, T32 Viral Oncology Scholar

Kelly Hotchkiss has expertise in developing pre-clinical immune cell culture, synthetic biology, in vitro and in vivo models as well as evaluations of biological systems from a biomedical engineering perspective.


Sarah Cook Quackenbush, PhD

Senior Research Associate and Immunology Lead

Sarah Quackenbush is an immunologist with expertise in preclinical models and immune monitoring. She is interested in understanding the comparisons and disconnects between the typical preclinical immunology models and clinical systems.


Lin Lin

Research scientist

Lin Lin is an immunologist with expertise in T-cell receptor therapies (TCR-Ts) development. She has a particular interest in identifying TCRs that target glioblastoma-specific antigens and seeks to ultimately develop immunotherapeutic strategies to help effectively treat patients with glioblastoma but also other cancers.


Ke-Nan Zhang, MD

Postdoctoral Associate

Kenan Zhang is a neurosurgeon from China working on molecular classification and immunotherapeutic research on diffuse glioma. He aspires to become an independent physician-scientist and make a difference for patients with diffuse glioma. He enjoys swimming, cooking food, and PC DIY in his free time.


Kirit Singh, MD

Graduate student

Kirit Singh is a biomedical engineering PhD candidate and a Preparing Future Faculty fellow. His research focuses on translational drug development (primarily bi-specific T cell engagers) and surgical window of opportunity trials.


Chelsea Railton

Senior Clinical Research Specialist

Chelsea is a UNC alumnus who is assisting with clinical trial protocol development, biospecimen collection, processing and analyses including library preparation for single cell RNA and other modalities of sequencing. She is also using sequencing data and cell culture techniques to investigate synaptic growth in relation to disease biology and clinical outcomes in patients with glioblastoma. She spends time learning piano and hiking/kayaking in the mountains.


Grayson Whitt

Research Technician II

Grayson is a NCSU alumnus and research technician that is helping develop and improve animal models for improving immunotherapy against glioblastoma. He is planning on going back to graduate school to acquire his PhD in immunology or another biomedical science. He enjoys interacting with nature and the environment through hiking and camping.


Aamna Abbasi

Graduate Student

Aamna is an Immunology PhD candidate. She is interested in dissecting the intricacies of the tumor microenvironment, immune cell subtypes using both wet and dry lab approaches. In her free time, she enjoys thrift shopping and exploring new restaurants.


Anna Corcoran

Anna is an undergraduate student studying Statistical Science and Biology. She aspires to work in cancer research doing biostatistical analysis and aspires to enrol in data science PhD program. In her free time, she enjoys running, hiking, and doing crossword puzzles.


Elizabeth Owens

Elizabeth has graduated in 2024 from duke studying Neuroscience, Computer Science, as well as Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. In the lab she has trained to learn since cell RNA analysis as an honors project during her senior in college. She aspires to work in healthcare and make a tangible difference on the lives of others. Outside of exploring research skills in the lab, she enjoys spending time with her dogs and doing crossword puzzles.


Eugene Cho

Eugene Cho is an undergraduate student at Duke studying biology and sociology. She completed a research project using cell culture and flowcytometry techniques to study fibroblasts, the tumor microenvironment in the context of gliomas and metastasis. She aspires to be a physician and enjoys visiting coffee shops in her free time.


Maya Chandar

Maya is majoring in Neuroscience and Computer Science with a minor in Sociology. She has trained in flowcytometry, working with in vivo models and developed skills in preclinical immunology, in the context of neurological disorders, brain tumors.