University of Minnesota
MICaB Graduate Program
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Current Students

Christine Nelson

Thesis Advisor: Vaiva Vezys

Year entered: 2012

Degrees received:
B.S., University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 2007

Honors and Awards:

  • Honorable mention for NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
  • Immunology training grant; 2014, 2015
  • Dennis W. Watson Fellowship; 2015-2016
  • Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship; 2016-2017
  • Schmit-Steer Award University of Minnesota Medical Schoo;l 2016
  • AAI trainee abstract award; 2017

Thesis Research:
Immune tolerance to tumor antigens is a major barrier to successful cancer treatment. Cancer immunotherapies, such as checkpoint blockade, that attempt to reverse T cell tolerance, have revolutionized cancer treatment. Despite the robust success in a subset of patients, the benefits remain elusive for almost two-thirds of patients. Our studies investigate the differential responses to checkpoint blockade in a mouse model of CD8 T cell tolerance. We found that only certain subsets of tolerant CD8 T cells respond to such treatment. Using this knowledge, we developed a vaccination strategy that induces responsiveness to checkpoint blockade across all subsets. This method can be used both prophylactically or therapeutically, in combination with checkpoint blockade, to treat melanoma tumors in mice. Our data suggests that vaccination induces major changes in T cell receptor signaling and responses to tumor antigens. RNA sequencing analysis of our subsets indicate that substantial changes in translation also occurs, which allows for successful treatment with checkpoint blockade. By investigating tolerance reversal in self-specific CD8 T cells we have uncovered ways to improve upon current anti-cancer treatments and developed potentially translatable anti-cancer vaccine strategies.


  • Thompson, E.A., Beura, L.K., Nelson, C.E., Anderson, K.G., Vezys, V. 2016. Shortened Intervals during Heterologous Boosting Preserve Memory CD8 T Cell Function but Compromise Longevity. The Journal of Immunology 196: 3054-3063.
  • Pauken, K. E.*, Nelson, C. E.,* Martinov, T.*, Spanier, J. A., Heffernan, J. R., Sahli, N. L., et al. 2015. Cutting Edge: Identification of Autoreactive CD4+ and CD8+ T Cell Subsets Resistant to PD-1 Pathway Blockade. Journal of Immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950), 194(8), 3551–3555. *co-first author
  • Sowell, R. T., Rogozinska, M., Nelson, C. E., Vezys, V., & Marzo, A. L. 2014. Cutting Edge: Generation of Effector Cells That Localize to Mucosal Tissues and Form Resident Memory CD8 T Cells Is Controlled by mTOR. The Journal of Immunology, 193(5), 2067–2071.