Anandani Nellan, M.D., M.P.H.

Assistant Clinical Investigator

Pediatric Oncology Branch


Building 10-CRC, Room 1-3750 Bethesda, MD 20892


Research Topics

Brain tumors are the most common cause of death in childhood cancers. T cell immunotherapy is a promising approach to target pediatric brain tumors by enhancing the immune system to kill malignant cells. Chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) are synthetic receptors that redirect T cells to recognize proteins expressed on tumor cells. CAR T cell therapy has been very effective in hematologic malignancies and early results treating brain tumors show promise. 

Finding antigens that are selectively expressed at a higher antigen density than normal cells is a key first step in the development of CAR T cells. Brain tumors have greater heterogeneity in target antigen expression compared to hematologic malignancies and antigen loss or antigen-low escape is a significant barrier to success of CAR T cell therapy, making the selection of target antigens especially critical. The immune microenvironment of brain tumors is a major reason why CAR T cell therapy has only resulted in modest and temporary responses in patients. Brain tumors are presumed resistant to cellular immunotherapies in part because of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) that inhibit cytotoxic T cells.

My research program focusses on developing CAR T cells and understanding mechanisms of immune-mediated resistance in two rare pediatric brain tumors, posterior fossa ependymoma and atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor (ATRT). While pathologically distinct, posterior fossa ependymoma and ATRT patient samples have abundant infiltrating myeloid cells within the tumor microenvironment that also correlates with worse outcome, making it especially relevant to study the crosstalk between the tumor and microenvironment.


My interest in research and child health began during my combined MD/MPH program at the University of Arizona. I developed a foundation in public health research methods and designed a research project based in rural India to determine predictors of adherence to the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS. I was awarded my first grant from the National Institutes of Health (Biomedical Research Abroad: Vistas Open Program) to fund this research endeavor. The results of this study demonstrated that increased social support and self-efficacy were significantly associated with improved adherence to prevention methods.

Following medical school, I completed a residency in pediatrics at the University of Virginia. There I developed a strong base in pediatric medicine and a sound understanding of critical needs for improvement in child health research. My fellowship at the combined Johns Hopkins/National Institutes of Health Pediatric Hematology/Oncology program was formative in launching my career as both a clinician and translational researcher in pediatric oncology and directly contributed to the selection of my research focus. I then obtained specific fellowship training in Pediatric Neuro-oncology at the Children’s Hospital Colorado. I received the institutional K12 Child Health Research Career Development Award in 2018 to fund the study of CAR T cells in ependymoma under the mentorship of Dr. Nicholas Foreman and Dr. Terry Fry.

This page was last updated on September 7th, 2021