Gartrell Lab

Location and Contact Information

Irving Cancer Research Center 916A
1130 St. Nicholas Avenue
New York, NY 10032
United States

Principal Investigator

Multiplex immunofluorescence image of immune infiltrate in a pediatric patient post radiation therapy.

Multiplex immunofluorescence image of immune infiltrate in a pediatric patient post radiation therapy

Dr. Robyn Gartrell joined the faculty in the Department of Pediatrics as an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Hematology/Oncology in 2019 and began studying the immune system in childhood tumors. The Gartrell Lab specializes in the evaluation of immune response to tumors through computational approaches as well as tissue-based spatial relationships. 

When immune cells are recruited to the tumor site, they are usually inactivated by cancer cells, often through mechanisms of bypassing immune cell checkpoints. In recent years, immune checkpoint inhibitors have been incorporated into the clinic for their role in preventing this interaction between tumor and immune cells and therefore keeping the immune cells activated and alert. Although many adult cancers have had great success with immunotherapy, pediatric tumors often do not respond. One of the primary reasons for this is because there are too few immune cells recruited to the tumor site in the first place. Importantly, it has been shown that radiation can recruit immune cells and activate these cells to target the tumor. Using radiation could therefore maximize the response to immunotherapy when used in combination and may be more appropriate for children, especially those with brain tumors, who receive radiation as standard of care. 

The Gartrell Lab at CUIMC investigates combination strategies with the goal of using immunotherapy with standard radiation and/or chemotherapy to treat fatal childhood brain tumors and solid tumors. Dr. Gartrell leads preclinical work in her laboratory that is directly used for developing concepts to treat children with immunotherapy.  

Gartrell Lab members performing experiment processing murine glioma tissues for single cell analysis.

Gartrell Lab members Hanna Minns (left) and Oscar Padilla processing murine glioma tissues for single cell analysis.

In 2021, Gartrell Lab began to study a novel radiation modality called FLASH, or ultra-high dose-rate radiation, which could potentially spare more healthy tissue while having equal tumor killing capabilities as conventional dose-rate radiation. In the context of brain tumors, FLASH has also been shown to preserve neurocognitive functions better than the conventional dose, an important consideration in childhood morbidity. The lab recently completed a project using single cell RNA sequencing to evaluate the immune microenvironment after treatment with FLASH or conventional dose-rate radiation. Understanding how radiation affects the immune microenvironment will help us determine the best combination with immunotherapy. 

The Gartrell Lab’s exploration of the tumor immune microenvironment both at baseline and in conjunction with different types of combination therapies moves us one step closer to finding an effective treatment for childhood cancers for which there are few treatment options. Dr. Gartrell also mentors multiple levels of trainees including undergraduate and medical students as well as residents and fellows. The lab is supported by NIH funds as well as support from Swim Across America, Hyundai Hope on Wheels, and Children’s Oncology Group (COG) Foundation.  

Lab Members

  • Hanna Minns 

    • Technician

    Hanna graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the honors college at the University of Oregon with a degree in biology. Her honors thesis focused on a computational evaluation of the genetic mechanisms driving species diversity. She continues to cultivate this passion for genomics and systems biology in the Gartrell Lab and recently submitted her co-first author project using single cell analysis to profile the tumor immune microenvironment in a mouse model of diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. Her research interests include neuro-immunology and neurogenomics, and she hopes to further pursue these areas in an MD/PhD program.

    photo of Hanna Minns
  • Yuqing (Mike) Xiong 

    • Columbia University VP&S Medical Student 

    Yuqing Xiong graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in biochemistry and liberal arts. His research interests include image recognition using AI, computational translational research, and using technology in medicine. Yuqing hopes to pursue a career in pathology. Outside of work, he enjoys exercising, playing video games, watching shows, and traveling.

    photo of Mike Xiong
  • Shannon Fernandez-Ledon 

    • Columbia University VP&S Medical Student 

    Shannon graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2017 with a degree in economics, and completed the Columbia University Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program in 2019. During her time at Penn, she conducted research in the economic sustainability of precision cancer medicine with a consortium at the Abramson Cancer Center. During her postbacc, she worked closely with the pediatric solid tumor team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center researching Wilms’ and rhabdoid tumors. Shannon is currently a 4th year medical student at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and is applying to pediatric residency programs. She began working in the Gartrell Lab during her first year of medical school under the NIH TRANSFORM TL1 training program evaluating the tumor immune microenvironment of pediatric liver tumors and continues her work today. Shannon hopes to continue her research endeavors throughout her career in order to discover novel therapeutics and decrease morbidity and mortality in pediatric oncology

    photo of Shannon Fernandez-Ledon
  • Nicole Vieira Pires 

    • Columbia University Undergraduate Student 

    Nicole is a rising sophomore at Columbia University majoring in neuroscience & behavior and following the pre-med track. Born and raised in Brazil, she came to the U.S. with a passion for medicine and willingness to contribute to the advancement of science through research. During high school, she got involved with research and science competitions. As a science research fellow at Columbia, Nicole joined the Gartrell Lab to study combination immunotherapy in the treatment of pediatric brain tumors. Broadly, her current research interests include neuro-oncology and neurosurgery. In the future, Nicole aims to pursue an MD degree, treating patients both in the U.S. and in Brazil, returning to the community she came from. In her free time, she enjoys watching TV series, trying different foods, and working out.

    photo of Nicole Vieira Pires

Previous Lab Members

  • Oscar Padilla, MD, MS 

    • Radiation Oncology Chief Resident
  • Isabel Genecin, MD 

    • Columbia University VP&S Medical Student 
  • Rebecca Yeh 

    • Barnard College Undergraduate Student 

Select Publications

  • For a complete list of publications from the Gartrell Lab click here.

  • Chen AX*, Gartrell RD*, Zhao J, Upadhyayula PS, Zhao W, Yuan J, Minns HE, Dovas A, Bruce JN, Lasorella A, Iavarone A, Canoll P, Sims PA, Rabadan R. Single-cell characterization of macrophages in glioblastoma reveals MARCO as a mesenchymal pro-tumor marker. Genome Med. 2021 May PMID: 34011400; PMCID: PMC8136167.

  • Zhao J, Chen A, Gartrell RD, Silverman A, Aparicio L, Chu T, Bordbar D, Shan D, Samanamud J, Goetz M, Yamaguchi J, Cloney M, Horbinski C, Lukas R, Raizer J, Rae A, Yuan J, Canoll P, Bruce J, Saenger YM, Sims P, Iwamoto F, Sonabend A, Rabadan R. Immune and genomic correlates of response to anti-PD-1 immunotherapy in glioblastoma. Nat Med. 2019 Feb PubMed PMID: 30742119.